John Paul II and Young People, Munich 1980

In the Marienplatz, Munich

At the base of the shaft of the Mariensaule, a column crowned with a statue of the Virgin Mary, we find inscribed “Johannes Paul II 19.11.1980” to commemorate the last day of his trip to Germany in 1980. He celebrated Mass in the Marienplatz and during his homily he addressed the youth. This homily reveals his deep understanding of and his concern for youth. It should continue to be heard by youth, parents and teachers.

He tells them that knowledge of truth is basic for the building of the inner human being. One can be mature only “with the truth and in the truth.” For this purpose of maturing in Truth “lies the profound meaning and importance of education.” And the “entire educational system from the schools to the university” must serve this purpose:

they must help young people to know and understand their world and themselves, they must help them see what gives existence and works of man in the world their full meaning — God. Man cannot live without knowing the meaning of his existence.

Catholic higher education still makes this a secondary or tertiary aim. And John Paul knows that the search for truth, becoming oriented to the truth of God, is not easy and so he says “I would like to call out to you young people — Do not be not be cheated or deceived!”

He notes that sometimes the youth suffer as a result of their parents who neglect them or are careless or even oppose the formation of faith. The schools pressure the young to become over-achievers. The professional future is often insecure. The world is filled with violence and confusion. Leaders themselves have become disoriented and may have fallen from faith and truth.

But Pope John Paul II says the root of our problem is “an uprooting of God in the heart of man and an uprooting of God from society.” Man is deified instead of God, against God, without God. This is now visible he says under “atheistic presuppositions of many systems today.” Obviously John Paul has in mind the communist system still in place in 1980, but also he sees it in the west, the free west, where the atheistic presuppositions spread out each year and grow deeper in our culture. It is painful to admit that our “system” now runs on the presuppositions of atheism, that human life finds its fulfillment without God and against God. And the youth breathe it in and are acclimated to the toxic fumes of consumerism and the liberalism of the autonomous self. In the middle of this homily we hear the true eloquence of the Pope:

Anyone who denies the fundamental truth of reality, who makes himself the measure of all things and, in doing so, puts himself in God’s place, anyone who feels that he can get along without God, the creator, without Christ, the redeemer of man, anyone who, instead of seeking God, pursues idols, has always been fleeing from the most basic and saving truth.

That passages hearkens to his own Redemptor hominis, and it contains allusions to the ancient philosophic struggle against sophistry as well as the basic truth of Genesis 1.

Pope John Paul then identifies the ways the youth may “flee from the most basic and saving truth.” They may be tempted to just resign and give up; or withdraw into themselves as if an expanded “inner consciousness” will provide the truth. More often the very inner life is being destroyed through alcohol and drugs, or through the allure of experimentation and thrill of pleasure seeking. Others react to these mistakes by fleeing to cults and sects where their very idealism and enthusiasm is abused and where their freedom or conscience is diminished. Even the search for justice can be a flight from the truth when utopian dreams are substituted for God.

Pope John Paul II sees at work in the modern world “the mysterious power of evil and iniquity.” The loneliness of youth, the temptations of isolation and forlornness, leave the youth at the mercy of such powers. And so he delivers the message of the Good news to the young — the good shepherd, Christ, “gathers up man on the dark path of his loneliness and disorientation and leads him back to the light.” (See Ezekial 34:12 — the shepherd will deliver them out of all the places where they have been scattered in the cloudy dark day.”)

Christ frees the heart of man in truth from the contradiction of demeaning or deifying the human person. In the true humanness of Christ we find the love of active concern and protection, especially of the young. Christ wants to accompany the young as they mature in their humanness. Through the Word and the Sacraments he nurtures and strengthens us.

In the 1,000 year history of Christian faith in Bavaria we can see many examples of faithful response to the call of Christ. St. Korbinian, Bishop Benno von Meissen, St. Elizabeth of Wartburg, and Father Rupert Mayer, S.J.

Pope John Paul II concluded his homily to the people of Munich on that day by exclaiming: “Dear young people! Open your hearts to Christ’s call! Your human life is a ‘unique adventure and enterprise,’ that can be a blessing or a curse.”

May the voice of John Paul the Great continue to sound out today..

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