Monday was our last day of classes, and I always like to end the year with my seniors by giving them some “sage” advice on the next step in their journey. This year I referenced both the film we just completed, The Truman Show, and a book that I have been recommending lately, Excellent Sheep.
I like to finish off the school year with seniors by watching The Truman Show because it portrays a dystopia that feels a lot like a modern college environment. It is no secret that there can be a bit of social engineering going on at campuses around the country, and few, if any, schools are immune.
My classroom policy on the expression of personal opinions has been such that the only restriction that applies is that the speaker must always show respect for other people and their ideas. Over the past 38 years I have heard emanate from the mouth of one student or another pretty much every opinion on the spectrum on pretty much any controversial topic, and not one of them “paid a price” for their willingness to express their thoughts.
Thus, I feel the need to warn them of the different environment they may encounter in the fall. I don’t want them to naively walk onto a college campus or into a college classroom with the idea that the rules that worked in my classroom still apply. I have had too many former students stop by with sad tales of being mocked for their opinions or being given grades based not on the quality of their arguments but on the positions that they took, and I want my seniors to know the lion’s den that they may be entering in the fall.
But I try to balance this warning by promoting the age-old college tradition of taking the time to talk into the wee hours with roommates and friends about the great “meaning of life” issues that are pondered by all thoughtful people, and most especially by college students.
As Catholics we believe that logos – which has a multitude of meanings: word, logic, argument, discussion, reason – is what makes us truly human, in the image and likeness of God and especially God Incarnate, the Logos known as Jesus. The more we enter into the logos the more we can bring people together rather than divide them. Where better than on college campuses – places where the next generation of leaders is being “educated” – to foster logos and the reasonable discussion of great ideas?
Without using these theologically tinged concepts in his writing, William Deresiewicz, author of Excellent Sheep and other great books on college and “meaning of life” issues, expresses the same thoughts. His great fear is that young people don’t know how to make or be friends, and that because of the state of today’s universities a college campus is no longer a place to foster deep friendships.
To put an Ignatian spin on this: what young people need today is companionship. Ignatius intentionally called his small band of followers the Companions of Jesus because to be a companion had a special meaning: the Latin cum panis means “with bread” and thus a companion is someone with whom you share a meal – or a late night snack in a dorm room. We don’t share meals with just anyone – we do so with those with whom we have a common bond.
Thus, it is no surprise that the idea of being a companion is so prevalent in Pope Francis’ recent Apostolic Exhortation for young people, Christus Vivit, and that the word “accompany” appears twenty-four times in the document. What could be more comfortable in the thoughts of a Jesuit than the importance of companionship? And who better to talk to young people about companionship than the Jesuit with the biggest pulpit in the world?
Over the next nine weeks I will be discussing this exciting new document and hope to bring to light important insights of Pope Francis, insights which saw their roots in the 2018 Synod on Young People. Throughout the summer I hope to focus on the state of young people in the Church and in the world today, and to enumerate papal directives on how we can best support these young people along the way – in short, to show how we can best accompany them.
We send our seniors off and into an environment that may or may not tolerate their beliefs and their questions, but we do so in the hope that they are aware of the great truth with which Francis begins his exhortation:
“Christ is alive...He is in you, He is with you, and He never abandons you. However far you may wander, He is always there, the Risen One.”