Pope Francis challenged a group of young people to examine their willingness to change for God on Saturday, insisting that they must “deny themselves” in order to truly be free.
“Jesus is very clear, saying that ‘if anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself,’” Francis told youth from the northern Italian diocese of Brescia who met with him in the Vatican.
While denying yourself does not mean despising what God himself has given us—such as our life, our desires, our body, our relationships—it does mean renouncing sin, he said.
“Jesus asks whoever wants to follow him to ‘deny himself,’ because there is inside each of us an ‘old man,’ a selfish person who does not follow the logic of God, the logic of love, but follows the opposite logic, that of selfishness, of pursuing his own interest, often disguised behind a good façade,” he said.
Referring back to the Christian mysteries of Holy Week, the pope spoke of the reason behind Jesus’ passion and death, which were to free mankind from sin and death.
“Jesus died on the cross to free us from this slavery that is not external, but internal to ourselves,” he said. “It is sin, which makes us die inside. Only he can save us from this evil, but he needs our cooperation, for each one of us to say: ‘Jesus, forgive me, give me a heart like yours, humble and full of love.’”
The pope said that this interior conversion that God asks of us requires a willingness to change, to let go of what holds us back from being true Christians.
“I ask you: Are you willing to listen to Jesus and change something of yourselves? If you’re here, I think you are, but I can’t take it for granted and I don’t want to,” he said. “Each one of you must reflect within yourself, in your heart: Am I willing to make Jesus’ dreams my own? Or am I afraid that his dreams may ‘disturb’ my dreams?”
Jesus’ dream is what is called “the Kingdom of God” in the Gospels, the pope said. “The Kingdom of God means loving with God and loving one another, forming a great family of brothers and sisters with God as Father, who loves all His children and is full of joy when one is lost and returns home.”
“This is Jesus’ dream. Are you willing to make it yours? Are you also willing to change to embrace this dream?” he asked.