An afternoon of legislative skills, issues and Mercy, Justice and Worship workshops

Bishop James Johnston, Jr., explains the Gospel’s request to encounter and exchange, to accept each other seriously, to journey together and share without fear during a workshop on Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation, Christus Vivit, Christ is Alive. (Marty Denzer/Key photo)

By Marty Denzer
Catholic Key Associate Editor

JEFFERSON CITY — The afternoon session of the Missouri Catholic Conference Annual Assembly Oct. 5 was packed with information on legislative contacting, pro-life apologetics, becoming an anti-racist parish, immigration realities, separating science and ideology of gender dysphoria, and setting a path of mercy, justice and worship for young disciples.

Our bishop, James Johnston, Jr. presented a talk/meditation on Christus Vivit (Christ is Alive)—Pope Francis’ Apostolic Exhortation issued March 25 following the 2018 Synod of Bishops on Young People held in Ireland.

Almost half of the 30 people attending the workshop served in youth or young adult ministry. While the thrust of the presentation was directed toward such ministries, many of the ideas, suggestions and comments in the document and stated by Bishop Johnston could be applied to Christian life as a whole.

The document Christus Vivit, a 33,000-word document divided into nine chapters, was overviewed during the workshop. Bishop Johnston described it as a Catholic, world-universal document.

Bishop Johnston began with Chapters 1 – 3, looking at Sacred Scripture, in particular at the young people of the Old and New Testaments. In the Old Testament, we meet Ruth, Samuel, the young future King David, Gideon, Joseph and his brothers, Jeremiah who protested he was to young to serve as God asked, the serving girl of Naaman, who urged him to bathe in the waters of Israel to be cured of leprosy and others.

In the New Testament, we first see the Child Jesus as he grows up, later we meet the rich young man, and hear the Parables of the foolish and the wise virgins and the Prodigal Son.

Jesus grew up but as Pope Francis says, “’Jesus is ever young!’”

The bishop continued, “Jesus was first the beloved son of the Father, then the obedient son of Mary and Joseph. He began his public ministry at age 30, the end of what we consider the end of Young Adult Ministry.”

In the Apostolic Exhortation, the pope focuses on Mary, a young woman of Nazareth, a model for women of all ages. As Pope Francis writes: “We are always struck by the strength of Mary’s ‘yes,’ the strength of the words ‘Let it be done’ when she spoke to the angel. This was no merely passive or resigned acceptance, or a faint ‘yes’ as if to say, ‘Well, let’s give a try and see what happens.’…Hers was the ‘yes’ of someone ready to be committed, ready to stake everything she had, willing to take a risk with no more security than to know that she was the bearer of a promise.”

Bishop Johnston explained that here Pope Francis showed his familiarity with the language of social media in describing Mary as an “influencer,” someone who was “all in” with her assent. It was a bold ‘yes,’ a surrender, the bishop continued; this is the tone throughout the document, showing the spirit with which to approach young people.

He said the pope calls upon young people to be protagonists in their own story, not pulled along by the currents they are in. An important part of youth ministry is to encourage young people to be courageous, excited and actively bold in that role.

He wants young people to realize they too are bearers of some unique promise that they can embrace and then take up.

Christus Vivit continues in Chapter 3 on Young Saints. Pope Francis prays that “’these and so many other young people who, perhaps in silence and hiddenness, lived the Gospel to the full, intercede for the Church, so that she may be full of joyous, courageous and committed young people who can offer the world new testimonies of holiness.’”

Bishop Johnston suggested, “We tend to think of youth as projects that we have to teach to impart knowledge to. The pope advised shifting to considering youth as ‘in progress,’ not as an end goal. He also said youth were ‘holy ground,’ and, in a sense, should be approached with reverence.”

Francis calls Youth Ministry a ministry of accompaniment. “’The Gospel asks us to encounter and exchange, to accept each other seriously, to journey together and share without fear,’” the bishop quoted him before continuing, “Accompaniment is the bedrock of any ministry in the Church. We talk a lot about evangelization which the pope says is ‘accompanying someone into a deeper life with Christ.’”

Bishop Johnston considers Chapter 4 the document’s heart. In it, the pope speaks directly to young people, outlining the many challenges facing young people today, including living in war zones, experiencing violence in many different forms, struggling to find their place in society because of their faith, enduring persecution for their faith, either by force or lack of alternatives, committing crimes, including drug and sex trafficking, terrorism, as child soldiers and in armed, criminal gangs, to name a few reasons young people are sent to prison. In places of great poverty, there are all kind of exploitation.

Others suffer forms of marginalization and social exclusion due to religion, economics or ethnicity. There is also the incidences of teen pregnancy and the scourge of abortion.

Many youth are migrants, seeking a better life with their families.

The bishop reminded his audience of yet another challenge facing young people the digital environment. Technology changes behavior, he said, affecting the use of time and social relationships.

The pope said, “It’s not healthy to confuse communication with mere virtual contact. The digital environment is one of loneliness; it manipulates, isolates, exploits and can gradually foster addictions and violence. The loss of contact with reality blocks real interpersonal relationships.”

There is good news, Bishop Johnston went on, “Paragraph 123 says, ‘Keep your eyes on the outstretched arms of the crucified Christ; let yourselves be saved over and over again. And when you confess your sins, believe firmly in his mercy, which frees you of your guilt …’ Christ is our enduring security.”

Seventeenth century French philosopher Blaise Pascal wagered that humans bet with their lives that God either exists or doesn’t exist.

Bishop Johnston, in discussing Christus Vivit and the pope’s assurance that ‘Christ’s power will be revealed as all that you need will come to you in a beautiful way, … changing your life … in the best way possible,’ calls this a modern Pascal’s wager: “What do we have to lose? Why not try it? Let yourself be prompted by the Holy Spirit.”

Chapter 5, The Paths of Youth, counters the closed-in-ness of dependence on small groups, and challenges young people to go out into the world with charity.

Chapter 6 details Young People with and without Roots. Bishop Johnston said that Pope Francis talks about the many youth who are rootless spiritually. The goal is to help them become rooted in faith, in the traditional family of God and, in their own families. He stresses the importance of elders, of grandparents. “Young people need the wisdom of their elders,” the pope said.

The bishop explained why. Various ideologies destroy or deconstruct all differences so they can reign unopposed. They must convince youth to spurn the past, leaving them ignorant of everything that came before them. Young people who look down on the past, ignore their history become easy to draw in. Ideology needs young people to be shallow, uprooted, distrustful, only trusting and following the ideology. Those who have no use for history, who spurn the spiritual and human riches inherited from past generations and are ignorant of everything that came before them, are ripe for ideological influence and manipulation.

Pope Francis said, “We must build a culture of encounter, nurture opportunities to bring generations together so there is a handing on of the treasure.”

The final chapters encompass the spiritual life. “In a secular culture like the U.S., what you see is all you get,” Bishop Johnston said. “That deprives young people of really the most important part of life, the awareness of God, of the supernatural.”

Pope Francis discussed the importance of contemplative prayer and worship before the Eucharist. Bishop Johnston noted that a recent survey of new seminarians indicated 72 percent said Eucharistic Adoration brought them their vocation.

The final Chapter on discernment discusses the importance of young people being missionaries and vocations. Marriage and family are the principal points of reference for youth. The breakdown of the family can cause suffering, forcing young people into roles of responsibility unsuited to their age levels. Marriage require preparation to succeed.

Whatever the discerned vocation, there are certain questions to consider. Do I know myself? Do I know what brings joy and sorrow to my heart? How can I serve, and do I have the abilities to do the work?

In summary Poe Francis wrote, “Dear Young People, My joyful hope is that you keep running the race before you, outstripping those who are slow or fearful. Keep running, attracted to the face of Christ whom we love so much. When you arrive at the place where we have not yet reached, be patient and wait for us!”

Bishop Johnston summarized: Answers matter as do the manner of the response. Plant roots, drawing on the rich histories of the Church, families and communities. The church is home, the family of God on earth, not a 501 (c) 3; it is the creation of the Holy Spirit, a place where we are always loved unconditionally. God loves you, Christ loves you and Christ Is Alive.

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October 19, 2019
Newspaper of the Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph