As the days of August signal some routine ends and hoped for beginnings, many of us find ourselves uncertain. Was the summer all that we had hoped it would be? Are the promises of the adventures ahead (academic and otherwise) capable of delivering? Many students are about to embark on the journey that is the undergraduate experience, while still many more are returning to that pursuit or engaged in higher research and advanced degreed endeavors. Bright as we all may be, we cannot get good answers if we are asking the wrong questions. Abraham Lincoln noted in his opening 1860 presidential campaign statement: “If we could first know where we are and whither we are tending, we could then better judge what to do and how to do it.” Too often the human person reflects too little upon “where we are and whither we are tending” and then laments yesterday’s achievements or today’s current state of affairs. Did the summer not deliver on all we hoped it would? So excited about tomorrow’s promise that we are missing today’s goodness? What are we really looking for? That is the more important question that needs to be first asked and answered.
I write these words in the aftermath of yet more senseless mass shootings and the incessant hand wringing and finger pointing that seems to accompany so much of our public discourse. Trying to get to the heart of the matter only tends to pit us more against one another. While hard questions regarding firearms, hate, and mental health all need to be addressed, the harder questions still elude us. Without a deeper reflection on “where we are and whither we are tending”, we will simply delay progress to a deeper and more lasting peace that will always prevail regardless of the brokenness of others or our own weakness. Isn’t that what we are really looking for? Isn’t that our only true hope for the future?
While the schools of public policy, law, and medicine (as well as others) will be important places to explore solutions, no place will bring the lasting peace that is needed except the space we create for quiet. Young adults of substance need to appreciate that the hardest work ahead is not what will be asked of them by demanding professors or an extensive calendar that falsely claims to offer “it all” by doing “it all”. Rather, the hardest work on a college campus (and certainly in the rest of life thereafter), is to carve out daily time for quiet to ask simple yet profound questions and listen to the Prince of Peace for eternal answers that possess a universal truth. Not only answers, but the Prince of Peace offers accompaniment through a world that cannot live up to the desires for which we all individually and collectively yearn. I don’t know about you, but that is what I am looking for (one undergraduate and two graduate degrees later).
This summer ends with hope on the horizon. The truly wise will recognize that hope if and only if we can strip away the cacophony long enough to appreciate the wisdom of Peace. St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of peace, made that his simply greeting and farewell – Pax et Bonum (Google it!). In his simplicity, Francis realized that was the question, the answer and our deepest longing. May the academic year ahead confirm that eternal truth for each of us and for our world that is so desperately in need of it!
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