By OSV Editorial Board - OSV Newsweekly, 4/22/2012
A depressing column by New York Times columnist Frank Bruni titled “The Bleaker Sex” explored the debasement of women, the corrosive impact of pornography and the dismal state of sexuality among the young and the hip. Bruni is no prude: He’s a gay ex-Catholic with his share of anger directed at the Church. Yet he seemed genuinely nonplussed by the erosion of intimacy and the cynicism of the 20-somethings he was writing about.
None of this is particularly surprising these days. Nor are the statistics about the plummeting rates of marriage, the skyrocketing rates of out-of-wedlock births, and the persistent epidemics of both divorce and abortion. Ours is not a happy land, and those young people who have not been lulled into the coma of consumerism are the first to admit it.
This week is our special college issue, and we are focusing particularly on colleges and virtue. The idea that growing to adulthood is an intellectual and spiritual passage as well as a physical one seems sometimes to be lost on a society that is prolonging adolescence beyond all previous limits. Growth in virtue is a critical, indeed irreplaceable, component of such maturity, and Catholic colleges and universities can play an invaluable role in reintroducing the discussion of virtue into the moral wasteland that is now our environment.
What is critical, however, is that Catholic colleges and universities themselves rediscover a sense of mission that extends far beyond the normal criteria of academic success. For too long, Catholic institutions have been subverted by a desire to be seen as academically legitimate, and this has come at the cost of a clear and evangelistic Catholic identity.
Relatively well-known Catholic universities can seem almost embarrassed by their denominational identity, or even abandon ecclesial links to religious orders or the Church itself, choosing to locate itself rather vaguely “in the tradition of” rather than simply proclaiming a clear Catholic identity.
The good news is that change is in the air. A new generation of teachers and scholars and students are leading administrators to reconsider some of the knee-jerk opposition to an explicit Catholic identity and mission.
It can start with the creation of a virtuous environment. The hook-up culture offers no joy and no peace, and an intellectually rigorous attitude of skepticism should be directed at the values of the larger society, and what is being promoted to young people in literature and popular culture. Education in the faith befitting young adults should be made more accessible, and there should be an apologetics component as well, rather than the neutral skepticism that can typify many college-level theology and philosophy classes.
A virtuous environment provides a rich context for the kind of selflessness that can be found in the social justice work that so many young people are also drawn to. Working with the poor, the homeless, the immigrant, the abused, the neglected and abandoned is fulfilling work, but it takes on a richer meaning within the context of the Church’s teaching and the examples of the saints.
It has long been a frustration that the dichotomy between faith and reason too often is found on Catholic campuses. What is needed now is a renewal that will educate Catholics in a life of virtue and a life of intellectually rigorous faith, ultimately allowing them to bear witness in both word and deed to a wounded and despairing culture.
Editorial Board: Greg Erlandson, publisher; Msgr. Owen F. Campion, associate publisher; Beth McNamara, editorial director; John Norton, editor; Sarah Hayes, presentation editor.
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