Lisbon, tens of thousands of young people at World Youth Day last August (Catholic Press Photo)

Young people and Christmas: an ideal to bet on

"The ashes of our dreams are invested by the only ideal that withstands the impact of evil and time: God himself has come to meet us." Davide Prosperi's letter to Corriere della Sera.
Davide Prosperi

Dear Director,

I recently had a conversation with some university students, and the first question they asked me was: “How can we live relationships, given that we are all petty and treacherous?” Young people feel charged with the responsibility for the future of society, especially when they end up at the centre of dramatic events such as those we have witnessed this year: the terrible attack on October 7, wars that do not end, brutal acts of violence committed in the name of a false love that is in reality oppression. So many analyses could be made: young people struggle to understand the world around them, they are more fragile and have difficulty in understanding what they want and who they want to be, they prefer to live in the virtual world rather than the real world, and so on. I do not judge the merits of these interpretations, but I have the impression that we almost always look at the contingent causes or consequences of discomfort. It is rare that we look at its origin.

Thirty years ago Fr. Giussani told some young people: “It is a lie to say to your girlfriend: ‘I love you’, if you do not wish her destiny to be affirmed.” What does it mean to love the other “for their destiny”? Everyone desires “to love”; it is in our nature to desire happiness for ourselves and for those around us. Yet, disappointment or the fear of not being able to sustain this desire often wins. So, at best, we settle for what everyone can offer to make life less bitter. But this often ends up turning into a desire to possess the other and thus into violence. “There is no ideal to which we can sacrifice ourselves, for all we know is lies, we who do not know what truth is.” These verses by André Malraux offer a point of escape from this short circuit. What seems most lacking today is a great ideal for which to spend one's life. Otherwise, the fear of so many couples to have children could not be explained.

But when is an ideal true? When does it instead turn into a dream and ideology? Is Malraux right when he says that we do not know what truth is, or is the deep, authentic desire for goodness that is in everyone's heart a sign that a truth exists and reality is not a deception or a game of interpretations? Educating young people to a position of expectation, of positive openness towards themselves and reality, I believe, is the first step towards putting them in a position to grasp those concrete signs that show that it is not all an illusion. Of course, I realise–I speak as a father, a university teacher and the person responsible for a reality that brings together so many young people–that in order to be credible we adults must first of all hold this position: what can a young person expect if their father or mother, or their teachers, live without expecting anything for themselves?

At Christmas time, this expectation becomes palpable. Two thousand years ago, the shepherds in Bethlehem, and with them the whole of humanity, were waiting for a change to which they could not give a name. And the proclamation of Christmas responds precisely to this expectation today: “The destiny from which I am born and to which I am destined, my starting point and my end, has become One among us […] Christ is that without which man and all reality disappear, and only the brief stroke of the instant–pleasure or pain–remains, which time turns to ashes” (Fr. Giussani). The ashes of our dreams are invested by the only ideal that withstands the impact of evil and time: God himself has come to meet us. Destiny is no longer the inaccessible mirage of the fulfilment of our fickle and precarious dreams. Destiny has become a companion on the road, in a friendship where we can always verify whether the road is true and is for us. In this sense, the words of the Pope at the last World Youth Day reintroduces an ideal horizon that is really worth betting on: “To you, young people, who have great dreams, but often fear that they may not come true (…) Jesus says: ‘Do not be afraid!’.”