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Family , Formation , Faith : These are three pillars of Christian society, three values that must be affirmed and lived by youth today, said Pope Benedict XVI in a recent address to Italian young people. In the process, he critiqued our world for tearing down each of these values through a culture of death, relativism and nihilism, secularism and materialism. But what makes his address here so powerful—reminiscent of his words to American youth in April—is the hopeful realism throughout:

“Dear young people,” cried the Holy Father, “re-appropriate the value of the family, love it not just for the sake of tradition but as a mature and conscious choice.” He also recalled how Vatican Council II had described the family as a “small Church” because “marriage is a Sacrament, in other words a holy and effective sign of the love God gives us in Christ through the Church.”

The second value is “serious intellectual and moral formation”, said Pope Benedict. “The crisis of a society begins,” he said, “when it no longer knows how to transmit its cultural heritage and its fundamental values to the new generations. I am not only referring to the system of education. The question is a broader one . . . . Jesus said: ‘The truth will make you free,’ yet modern nihilism preaches the opposite: that freedom will make you true. There are, indeed, those who maintain that there is no truth, thus opening the way to rendering the concepts of good and evil meaningless, even making them interchangeable.”

The third value identified by the Pope was “sincere and profound faith.” He said: “When a sense of the presence and reality of God is lost, everything becomes ‘flat’ and is reduced to a single dimension. Everything is ‘squashed’ into the material plane . . . . The mystery of existence also disappears: things and people interest me not for themselves but in the degree to which they satisfy my needs. Faith, in this sense, before being a religious belief, is a way of experiencing reality, a way of thinking, an interior sensibility which enriches human beings . . . . Being with Jesus, frequenting Him as a friend in the Gospel and in the Sacraments, you may learn . . . that which society is often no longer capable of giving you: a religious sense.”

“May each of you rediscover God as meaning and foundation for all creatures, light of truth, flame of charity, bond of unity,” he concluded. “You will no longer be afraid to lose your liberty, because you will experience it fully by giving it for love. You will no longer be attached to material goods, because in yourselves you will feel the joy of sharing them. You will no longer be sad at the sadness of the world, but will experience pain for evil and joy for good, especially for mercy and forgiveness . . . . If you really discover God in the face of Christ, you will no longer think of the Church as an institution external to yourselves, but as your spiritual family.”

Grounded on the truth of human fallenness, this is a hopeful realism. But, grounded on the promise of the Gospel, it is a realistic hope.



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