Pope Pius XII in 1952 stated in a radio message, “The direction of today’s society principally is placed in the mentality and hearts of the universities of today.” The Church Fathers at Second Vatican Council in October 1965 restated it this way: “Since the destiny of society and of the Church itself is intimately linked with the progress of young people pursuing higher studies…”
Colleges and universities have a tremendous responsibility to society. “Back in the day” they served the privileged class. Most often, university life was an essential aspect of the preparation for the future leaders in society. What has changed is the arrival of a meritocratic system in which higher education became readily available to a much larger segment of society. What hasn’t changed is the importance of educating the students who will serve as future leaders throughout our society.
Holy Week begins today. This is a wonderful time to think about Jesus as he approaches the end and to discover in this moment our own beginning … and your beginning with “higher education.”
Jesus prepares for his arrival into Jerusalem this week sending for a donkey saying: if anyone asks why tell them, “The Master has need of it.” Jesus is really talking to each one of us. He is in need of each of us to live out our life’s purpose. The college search phase represents the beginning of your journey into higher education and the discernment of your life’s vocation in a real and meaningful way.
The challenge for all of us is to discover that purpose and to be receptive to how we can best serve each other and mankind. Service. To others. In humility. As you reflect on your education, are you considering how the culture and environment of the college or university will contribute to success on your journey?
We desire many things: food, drink, shelter, wealth, power, honor, and happiness. We wish for only good things for our family and friends. We also desire to be prepared for the twists and turns that the future will bring to us. That means tomorrow … next week … next month … next year. All of this assumes, of course, that we are graced with a long and happy life. But we know there is no promise that tomorrow will come. Thus, we should also maintain an awareness of what is sometimes referred to as, “our ultimate concern.” Our individual eternal salvation is an important consideration but it is not separate from God’s purpose for our lives; thus, your “higher education” should be attentive to the discovery of your vocation.
A Catholic college or university is aware of these hopes, desires, and needs. Collegiate life should be organized to address them. The course of study should ensure that you are exposed to all that is true, and good, and beautiful. These institutions are keenly aware of the need to prepare you to be a contributing citizen so there is focus on educating you for employment. We are expected to work and it is through our work we can move towards achieving our life’s purpose. But a Catholic higher education is about so much more than a job after graduation.
It is about relationships. It is about service and leadership. It is about ethics and morality. It is about learning to be selfless rather than selfish. It is about preparing you for a life of making your days count rather than an academic year of counting your days.
Jesus modeled the way for us and so it should come as no surprise that colleges and universities were “born from the heart” of His Church. The college or university you select really matters and they are not all the same. Look for indicators the school is offering you an experience that is focused on preparing you for future responsibilities in your family, community, and profession. Look for indications that the environment is open to seeking out and discovering the truth. Look for signs you are entering into a culture that values human dignity—a cornerstone to advancing society towards prosperity and peace. Carefully consider the courses and activities that will contribute to discovering your life’s purpose. Ensure that what is of “ultimate concern” is attended to in a meaningful way.
Over time you will be a reflection of the college or university, as it becomes a reflection of you. “The Master has need of it.” He needs you to contribute to His plan. He needs you to be ready and to act affirmatively. This requires you to consider your choices carefully and doing so in an objective way. Perhaps using the Collins College Report Card as your objective framework will make the task easier. I certainly pray that is so!