Friday, May 20, 2016

An Open Letter to the High School Class of 2016

I have never done this before, but year after year as a pastor I have seen the youth of my parish enter into the bigger badder worlds of college, full time employment, or military.  I am a person who watches society very carefully; I have to, my parishioners live and interact with the society every day.  I know for you freshly minted high school graduates that world you enter resembles very little the world I graduated into back in 1983.  However, in most ways, the core challenges remain very much the same, even if the methods under which they come are different.

Essentially, many felt that when they were in High School that many external forces were trying to define you: school, family, religion, and the list goes on and on.  There can be a feeling that now I can define myself, I will have a freedom I didn't have before.  To some extent this true, but largely it isn't.  It is true to the extent that most of you will be living most of the time outside of the home.  You will have some greater freedom in movement; but that freedom comes at the cost of safety nets.  However, the desire to pressure you into being a person according to another person's definition doesn't go away, it only intensifies.  It stays there for the rest of your life.  How you negotiate it and how you choose to move will develop the kind of person you are.

I am a priest.  Of course I am going to make the plea that you allow the primary influence of who you become to be defined by our faith.  Why?  Because I really do believe that if our Catholic faith is lived correctly, we have the power to transform the world.  Hence, I ask you to guard yourself against the following and to adapt the following:

A) Don't play the victim.  The world will want you to believe you are a victim; helpless and put upon.  It wants this because then you can be manipulated.  It will incite anger and division.  It will stir up your emotions with a righteous indignation.  Don't buy it!  To be sure, there is much injustice in the world.  As long as you're a victim, you'll never be able to rise above it.  Change comes from getting involved and utilizing the gifts God has given you.  No institution has ever been reformed from the outside.  The only change that come from the outside is the destruction of an institution, which is exactly what those manipulating you will want. They will not fully tell you what they intend to put in its place.  Don't become their useful idiots.  Know that for all the harm and hurt that is a part of life, that the Gospel well lived, moves us beyond victim status to hero status.  Be a Mother Theresa and not a Robespierre.

B) Don't make pleasure your master.  Pleasure is an exacting master who is never satiated.  If we order our lives to pleasure, we will be perpetually unhappy.  You might well have heard that nothing in life worth having is easy.  That is completely true.  Excellence in anything requires sacrifice and discipline.  Pleasure is not evil by nature, but it can't be sought after so much so that it becomes an impediment to growth.  If life is about the next beer, the next high, the next sexual encounter then life loses any zest and is replaced by enslavement to the passions.  God did not create us to be slaves, no, He created us to be free; to be unencumbered by the iron weight sin piles on us.

C) Don't be entitled.  The world owes you nothing.  It does not owe you respect.  It does not owe you  anything and will take as much as it can and dispose of you like a fruit rind as soon as it gets what it wants.    There is really no such thing as free; there is making someone else pay for it, but there is no such thing as free.  Being entitled will lead you to no good place.  It will wreck your life and stymie it from ever growing to the excellence to which it is capable.  Entitlement wastes God's grace and gifts planted in you.  God's grace is free, but He will not force you to anything.  You will however reap the rewards or suffer the punishment of said choices.

D) Show restraint.  Not every word that passes through your brain needs to exit your mouth.  Our words and actions have consequences.  They do.  Be aware of that.  Being the bigger person is important.  Letting go of grudges is necessary for growth.  Be aware that I might want to follow my passion but there might well be no job market for it.  Be aware that debt has to be paid back. Save money.  Live simply.  God has given us free will, we are not driven by instinct merely.  This is especially true for our electronic footprint.  The post about you getting wasted might seem like fun at the time...potential employers will not share your judgement on this.  Sexting might seem dangerous and fun, but those pictures will be out in internet for the rest of your life.  Remember, you tell people so much of the time how to perceive you.  Don't be upset if you presented yourself as cheap and other people defined you by it. You are better than that and worth so much more than that.

E) Be humble. Know your strengths and develop them.  Know your failings and correct them.  Lying to ourselves about who we are is probably the stupidest and most harmful thing we can do.  Truth sets us free.  It gives us freedom of movement.  Humility is the base of true growth; growth in faith especially.  God gives us his help where we need to build and His forgiveness (if we ask for it) when we fail. Humility allows us to see we need Him and we need our relationships with family and Church.   Humility reminds us we are not alone.  Humility gets us through the strongest of storms.

I want to see each and every reader of this succeed in this life and in the life to come.  We all should. If we are true to wanting to go ad make our mark in this world, if we want to make a positive mark it will be by staying grounded in the above things.  May God bless you with an abundance of His grace as you make your next step in life.

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