Seeing 3 million young people on Copacabana beach in Rio for Pope Francis’ closing Mass of the 2013 World Youth Day swelled my heart with joy. I’ve been on that beach, and it’s beautiful even when deserted. Knowing that some of our Ursuline sisters live near there made it even more special to me. Most of all, I am filled with hope by the young people of our times. I have met them in classrooms and retreats, at seminars and festivals. Though facing innumerable challenges in our world today, many are prayerful, open, and genuinely seeking to commit to Christ by using their own gifts to make a difference for good.
Some months ago, I read an article by David Brooks called “The Age of Possibility” (New York Times, November 2012). In it he writes of a phenomenon today that makes people intolerant of anything that closes off personal options. He cites possible reasons some put forth, including that people are less religious, more pessimistic and feeling great economic stress, fear, or the pressures of capitalism. He points out how “cafeteria societies with many options” are developing globally. Then he makes this statement: “My view is that the age of possibility is based on a misconception. People are not better off when they are given maximum personal freedom to do what they want. They’re better off when they are enshrouded in commitments that transcend personal choice — commitments to family, God, craft and country.”
The young people I encounter would, I think, resonate with what Brooks says. Many are discerning a future which presents them with numerous options. The idea of permanent commitment can be frightening. But they realize that a life choice—in marriage, religious life, priesthood or single life—is one to be made with God and not alone. A discerned life choice is grounded in the soul, where love, faith and generous self-gift move one to real commitment. Any important commitment will cut off other possibilities. But people who transcend simply personal desires and commit to something bigger—family, God, craft or country—are likely to be much better off as well as really happy.