We want to say that love is unconditional. It seems right. It is equal parts comforting and challenging. It is comforting because if I am loved, then there is nothing I can do to lose that. It is challenging because in order to love, I have to will to be untroubled by obstacles. We do not want to say love is conditional because we fear submitting love to the twisted logic of relationship terrorism: if you do not meet my demands, I deprive you of what is good for you, or vice versa. We think of conditions as qualifications and we do not want to attach qualifications to love. So we say love is unconditional. But that is wrong. Love is always conditional.
As part of an article written for Our Sunday Visitor (to post soon), I interviewed current college students and recent college grads, as well as college-bound high school grads about faith in college. Some of their thoughts and reflections are included with the article, but there were too many to get everything in. Here are the full responses from each of the teens and young adults…
Antagonisms are what we most frequently and efficiently pass on to young people. We teach them to do what we do and to become what we model. Ideals and hopes are diverted this way or that, to this side or that side, so it seems as if the only imperative is to establish oneself, one’s faction, in opposition to others. We are so deft at these maneuvers that we almost cannot help ourselves; we do it instinctively, somewhat naturally. Surprisingly yet predictably, this same old formational screenplay is playing itself out during the preparation for the 2018 Synod of Bishops on “young people, the faith and vocational discernment.”
Ironically, antagonism and its animating spirit, the hermeneutics of suspicion, are what young people tend to despise most of all. Yet, these things are precisely what we in the Church are preparing them to assume through what we do and what we model. When the final document from the Vatican’s pre-synod meeting of 300 young people was released at the end of March, the accusatory tweets and disparaging commentaries followed in breathless pursuit.
There are not a lot of reasons for optimism, but there is every reason for hope. Optimism is either the result of a calculation of the available evidence that warrants the assumption of a positive conclusion, or it is naïve wishing. Hope, though, is personal. More to the point, hope is founded on fidelity to the promises of Christ—we believe that he is who he has shown himself to be and we trust that what he says is true. The one who slayed death is more than capable of guiding us through the perils of the digital world, fatherless societies, biblical illiteracy, violence and abuse, and every kind of exploitation that our young people endure or perpetuate. Our part is to trust Christ and to give ourselves over to the mission of evangelization, sacrificing our comfort, shyness, anxiety, and concern for our own status along the way. That’s hope in action.
Moreover, the whole synodal process is entrusted to Mary, the Blessed Mother. She remains Our Lady of Hope because she gives everything to her Son, who redeems us. As the preparatory document for the synod offers in its closing section: “In her eyes every young person can rediscover the beauty of discernment; in her hear every young person can experience the tenderness of intimacy and the courage of witness and mission.”