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Becoming fully alive with an adult faith

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, October 13, 2005

Saint Irenaeus once wrote words to the effect that the summit of God’s creation is a man or woman fully alive in Christ. The reference is to a person who is serious about pursuing holiness in response to God’s unconditional love for them. Irenaeus is not talking only about Cistercian monks, martyrs of centuries ago, or Discalced Carmelite nuns, but about any man or woman. You do not have to be old to be holy. In fact, young people are more apt to be serious disciples of Jesus Christ than many others. Why? Because young people (Notre Dame undergraduates, for example) can give themselves over to a cause with a passion which springs from being young and from being idealistic in the most realistic sense of that term.

Almost every time he was in the presence of young people, the late Pope John Paul II was not only apparently connecting with them easily, and them with him, but he also urged young people not to be afraid. He did not want them to be afraid of a real commitment to Jesus Christ, to the Gospel or to the Church. He did not want them to be afraid of what others may think of them, including their peers, if they appeared to “march to a different drummer” – even if that “drummer” was Jesus Christ. He did not want young people to be afraid to become fully alive in Jesus. He did not want young people to be afraid to be men and women of God.

No matter who you are – student, member of the faculty or staff or even a casual visitor to Campus – you do not have to spend too much time at Notre Dame before you are struck and impressed with the incredible young men and women who make up our undergraduate student body. They seem to be able to accomplish anything they put their minds to. Indeed, these young people are here because they are serious about the goals they set for themselves, and enter fully into every aspect of student life, whether it be studies, sports, spirituality, or social life.

Some students come to Notre Dame because this seems to be their destiny. Perhaps a parent, grandparent or sibling came here, and Notre Dame naturally became their dream from the very beginning. Many students will tell you that the Catholic character of Notre Dame was important to their decision. And many state that a desire to deepen their faith and grow in their understanding of the role God, the Church and faith plays in their lives. Dorm Masses are perhaps the first place, after the many statues, places and symbols that raise hearts and minds to God, where young people’s inner hunger for God is realized and appreciated here at Notre Dame.

It is understandable that there are many discussions of matters related to Christian living that take place on Campus, whether in the residence halls, among friends or in the pages of The Observer. A number of these conversations revolve around sexuality. And all too often, conversations that focus on sexuality try to address the dangers and negative results of inappropriate behavior, rather than communicating the beautiful and deep call to live our lives with the consistency that a Christian moral ethic can offer us.

It is critical that each of us deals appropriately with matters related to sexuality, and even more so for students who have come to Notre Dame with a deep spiritual motivation marked by a desire to grow in God’s love, to become fully alive in Christ.

Our society is driven by a secularization that is motivated more by MTV and easy money than by religious values. “Retreats” are not moments for spiritual reflection and renewal but “meetings.” “Ethics” is not a body of theological reflection derived from human behavior based on natural law and on the life of Christ, but can be only a set of “guidelines” that can be of assistance in making a handsome profit while avoiding indictment.

And here, as well as in many other places, internet pornography is entertainment, and “random hook-ups,” often driven by alcohol, can be seen as a normal part of the college experience.

I believe that our approach to these excesses is too often to condemn the negative results that can come about because of an action, rather than to promote as thorough an understanding as possible of a Christian sexual ethic and appropriate behavioral code of conduct. This is as it should be for the many students who seek a deepening of faith and a growth in holiness. This goal is only fully achievable if young men and women are encouraged to enter fully into a consistent Christian ethic which includes integrity, an understanding of appropriate sexual conduct and Christian service out of love among other values, rather than prayer and good intentions alone.

A book recommended by one of our priests which deals explicitly with Christian sexual ethics is entitled “In Pursuit of Love: Catholic Morality and Human Sexuality” by Vincent Genovesi, S.J. Copies of this book will be available in the Campus Ministry Library on the third floor of the Coleman-Morse Center for those interested.

Father Richard Warner is the director of Campus Ministry. He can be contacted at Warner.2@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.