Over lunch today, I read the following article in First Things that I believe is well worth the read for the issue of adolescence in the adult years. Check it out here.
The article speaks of a whole host of issues that have to do with young adults in the contemporary North American society and, I believe, that any young adult, if he is honest, can state that he suffers from this cultural apathy himself. I know I do, which is why I found the article so intriguing.
Let me begin with a bit of personal experience. I am a Catholic man in his late 20s studying to be a Catholic priest who attempts to take the Gospel call to Poverty, Chastity, and Obedience seriously. It means I will never get married, it means I will never have much, and it means I am no longer my own man. Yet, in the midst of my attempts and desires to follow what I believe Jesus is asking of me, I experience a definite loneliness in the midst of the call. This is not due to the call itself, I have discovered. Rather, it is due to the culture that surrounds me and my reaction to it. It is, I argue, far harder to live the Gospel call to the counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience today than they were even in the early Church because they are no longer common: they are, in fact, signs of contradiction. When you live that sign of contradiction, you begin to experience in your heart a loneliness. This loneliness is due to a variety of factors that can’t be universally pinned down. But it is there, I think most people can attest to that reality, especially young people. Loneliness exists, and it is based in the extended adolescence that young people are trapped in nowadays.
The article speaks much about political apathy, hyper-individualism, lack of commitment, lack of belonging, and an overall lack of identity. Young people nowadays wander in a dark void and they do not even realize it. This article (and probably this book) sheds light into this dark void, allowing people to see the bankruptcy that fills the lives of young adults.
As I read the article, my head just kept nodding in agreement. The issues it brings up gives meaning to the ultimate lack of identity and belonging and inability for young people to make commitments. I experience it myself, and I realized it was a hindrance to making the leap into the seminary. Commitment creates supreme fear in the hearts of young people because it demands something of us. I see it still in my life where the sudden invasion of the most minute inconvenience, suffering, or unhappiness brings a massive weight of doubt to my heart that I wonder if I have it all right. Thankfully, I have come to realize this and so do not freak out when it happens. Though I continue to experience, I do not overreact when it happens. I can’t say the same for many in my generation. The second suffering, inconvenience, or unhappiness invade their lives, they run away like a mouse runs from a cat: these things are threats to their being, threats to their very way of life. I experience it still, as I stated, and still give into it.
Yet, it is the very fear of commitment that sends us young people through the dark void. It is commitment which grants us an identity because it is in a commitment, especially vocational (in the Christian sense), that our person comes into its own: mission (in the form of marriage or consecrated life) and person (ourselves) come together where mission gives form to our being. How does a father identify himself as John Smith? As a father: that is where his identity is found, is based, is rooted. Parenthood is the form of life that gives form to John Smith. John Smith and father become identical in germ, and as he lives his married life as husband and father – I should say that husband is also identified as part of his mission – he grows in his identification as father and husband. He allows Christ to form him and to become the mediation of Christ’s splendor through fatherhood and as a husband. In other words, there is no separation (though there is a distinction) between fatherhood, husband, and John Smith. Commitment, vows, are what make us who we are.
When we run away from this, we lose our identity, and that increases the loneliness we experience in our lives. To not commit is to not be ourselves. It explains why there is a general apathy in young people today: they don’t commit and thus they are not themselves and thus find no need to commit themselves to anything or anyone. They see commitment as a binding – in the negative sense of the word – and as an affront on their freedom. Yet it is in giving yourself completely to someone else – be that, directly God, or to God mediated through marriage – that you become most yourself, and that can only happen in a vow, in a commitment of complete self to another.
Those are my varied and scattered thoughts on the topic (I am writing this in class…) and I highly encourage everyone to read the article and buy the book (I think I will be myself). If you are looking for a book on the topic of loneliness in our culture, I highly recommend – though I must warn that it is very dense – Romano Guardini’s “The End of the Modern World” in which he speaks about the experience of loneliness nowadays as a totally unique experience of the post-modern world. His prophetic statements are bang on, but, as I said, it is dense and not for the light hearted! Get it here.