St John Paul II’s challenge for the synod


Catholic Herald, 20 October 2018

'Do not be afraid of the love that places clear demands on people,' John Paul wrote

At the 2015 synod on the family, the assigned Gospel for the opening Sunday Mass was the teaching of Jesus on marriage and divorce, a providential reminder for the synod participants. This past Sunday, in the midst of the synod on youth, at the canonisation of Pope St Paul VI and St Oscar Romero, the assigned Gospel was that of the rich young man. Another bit of lectionary providence.

In his homiletic reflection on the young man’s encounter with Jesus, Pope Francis declared himself on a central issue of the synod. As I put it in the column here last June: challenge or comfort in the pastoral care of youth? Should the full challenge of Christian discipleship be presented to young people, even if it is demanding and perhaps intimidating? Or should a more comforting invitation be issued, lest young people today, like the young man of the Gospel, turn away?

“We cannot respond to Him, who made Himself our servant even going to the cross for us, only by observing some of the commandments,” Pope Francis preached. “We cannot give Him, who offers us eternal life, some odd moment of time. Jesus is not content with a ‘percentage of love’: we cannot love Him 20 or 50 or 60 per cent. It is either all or nothing.”

All or nothing. That is clear enough. Whether the synod takes that on board remains to be seen.

Another relevant papal reflection on the rich young man comes from St John Paul II, whose 40th anniversary of election (October 16) and feast day (October 22) fall during the synod. In 1985, his apostolic letter to youth was built around that biblical encounter. And while that landmark letter – the Church’s most complete address to young people – was completely ignored in the synod secretariat’s preparatory documents, perhaps the Sunday Gospel might usefully prompt another look.

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