I recently read the following article about students at Rutgers returning to the university for a new school year:
Students in at least one Rutgers University residence hall are being encouraged to use only language that is “helpful” and “necessary” to avoid committing microaggressions. Erected as part of the university’s “Language Matters” campaign, the bulletin board instructs students to ask themselves whether their choice of words is “true,” “helpful,” “inspiring,” “necessary,” and “kind” before speaking out. This is important since, among other reasons, victims of microaggressions are “more at risk for illness & a decreased immune system.”
There is a related essay in the New York Times by David Brooks on knowledge of one’s purpose and toughness which might have significant implications for evangelizers:
Emotional fragility seems like a psychological problem, but it has only a philosophical answer. People are really tough only after they have taken a leap of faith for some truth or mission or love. Once they’ve done that they can withstand a lot.
“We are all fragile when we don’t know what our purpose is, when we haven’t thrown ourselves with abandon into a social role, when we haven’t committed ourselves to certain people, when we feel like a swimmer in an ocean with no edge.”
Post moderns, especially Millennials, are very comfortable with the idea of being “open” as long as there is no expectation of having to come to a conclusion or a decision. This is seen in their struggle to make a “yes” or “no” decision when it comes to dating, choosing weekend entertainment with friends, finding a vacation destination with a group, choosing a college or university, deciding on one’s own religion and spirituality.
This difficulty with commitment is reflected in the spiritual life of believers as well. People pass through different “spiritual thresholds” when they grow in their faith. People are spiritually passive in the initial “trust” stage and “curious” stage. They won’t move. They won’t do anything. They won’t read a good book, attend a lecture or visit a church or worship service. In the “open” stage people become semi-active. They may walk through the door, read a blog post or talk to someone about spirituality, religion or faith. No commitment though. When a person becomes a “seeker,” things change. This is moving from a passive – to an active, “dating-with-a-purpose” – phase. After inquiry and sampling, they’re going to decide. They will either become staunch Catholic, become staunch religious follower in another denomination or drop religious and spirituality altogether
This is also the hardest phase in ones faith journey. Why? It has personal implications. It places demands on their priorities, money, time, relationships. People realize that this is a serious commitment and not just heavenly “fire insurance”. It is not merely a mental assent to a few religious ideals and values. They realize that after seeking comes intentional discipleship and that although “redemption” costs nothing; “discipleship” costs everything. They realize that they might be on the verge of “building a tower” and they are calculating the costs.
Consider the “Story of the rich young man” It has to be an important message since it is one of the few stories found in three of the Gospels (Matthew 19:16–30; Mark 10:17–31; Luke 18:18–30). Jesus forced the issue. Jesus made the young man calculate the costs. The result? The young man “went away sad.”
So why is this important? Let’s go back to David Brook’s New York Times article:
If you really want people to be tough, make them idealistic for some cause, make them tender for some other person, make them committed to some worldview that puts today’s temporary pain in the context of a larger hope.
The people we admire for being resilient are not hard; they are ardent. They have a fervent commitment to some cause, some ideal or some relationship. That higher yearning enables them to withstand setbacks, pain and betrayal.
We live in an age when it’s considered sophisticated to be disenchanted. But people who are enchanted are the real tough cookies.”
If you’re growing in your faith, one of several scenarios occur. You stay in the Catholic faith. You connect in your spirituality in a new way. You will produce significant and lasting fruit in your life. You begin to thrive and NOT just survive.
So ask yourself, where are you in your relationship with Christ? Are you angry at – or mistrust – the Church? Are you angry at – or mistrust – God? Have you been mostly passive, just attending church and not engaging Christ in a meaningful and personal way? Are you in a curious phase or are open to something more in your faith life? Have you had a significant encounter with Christ and are looking for somewhere or someone to discuss this with? Are you looking to have your faith challenged and be held accountable for it?
All of these scenarios are valid. All of these scenarios are normal. They are all stages in calculating the costs and building the tower. This week, ask the Lord for insights into where you are in your relationship with him … and where he wishes to lead you next.
Audio version of the homily is here: