Praised be Jesus Christ!
Well, here we are at the beginning of July… what I suppose is for many the end of the graduation party season. Having gone to commencement ceremonies and graduation parties, I’m reminded of what an exciting time it was for me when I graduated from high school. (For the record, that was 16 years ago, not three or five, as some would presume!) I remember then having dreams of being an architect, and in many respects having my life pretty well planned out: going to college, earning my bachelor’s and master’s, beginning my career, family, etc. Then, by my second year of college, things completely changed and I ended up in the seminary. You all know what came of that change of events, and the story continues on.
At this major turning point in their life (i.e., graduating from high school and going on for further education), many young people can feel a lot of anxiety. Many up to this point have filled their lives with a variety of courses and extracurricular activities. Many have identified and exercised numerous talents, skills, and interests. But yet, not a few are still asking themselves, “Who am I and what am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
I recently came across an interesting newspaper editorial that identified this common question among young people, and attributed the anxiety in large part to a cultural notion that we must go out to discover and then accept who we are.* The authors of the article I think rightly suggest that such a notion has led many astray. Then, they go on to recommend looking to the wisdom of Chinese philosophers such as Confucius and others who saw the human sense of identity as something unstable and in flux. Based on such wisdom, the authors say that it is unwise to lock ourselves into our own identified skills, interests, and plans for the future, for things in life do not always go according to plan.
While I found the authors’ suggestions and the wisdom of the Chinese philosophers, as they had summarized it, to be very good in many respects, I still felt there was something lacking and unsatisfying. These days, there has been growing interest in Eastern philosophies and religions, such as Buddhism and Confucianism, in our culture. This article certainly reflected that. But in my own limited study of these things, I have found the wisdom of our own Catholic Christianity far more refreshing and satisfying. Many in our post-Christian culture have become so “over-familiar” with the Gospel message that they don’t really know it at all, and as a result go searching the world for other “wisdom.”
To the anxiety of a searching post high school young person, our faith (if we actually look to it) provides us with the best answers and truths about who we are and who we can become. We don’t need to go out on a quest to find out who we are in a world that offers lots of conflicting and confused answers. God has already given us our identity in our baptism by making us his beloved and cherished son or daughter. Only when we have a relationship with God can we fully receive and appreciate that identity. And once we know our identity through our relationship with God, God gives us our mission. That mission is ultimately to be a disciple and witness of Christ. The ways we live that mission are as unique and varied as there are persons in the world. With God there are no failed plans or missed opportunities in life. When we commit our lives to him, the opportunities and possibilities for fulfillment and realizing the best version of ourselves are endless. Our best witnesses of this are the lives of the saints. The saints did great and amazing things with their lives not because their lives were well planned out or because they matched their skill set with the right job, but because they were generous with the God of infinite possibilities.
*Puett, Michael and Christine Gross-Loh, “The College of Chinese Wisdom.” The Wall Street Journal. Saturday/Sunday, April 2-3, 2016, C1.