Celebrating my birthday with siblings this week it hit me that, since I was born in ’59 and lived in eight different decades, I am dangerously close to being labeled an octogenarian. My older sister who hosted the gathering reflected on her recent high school reunion when classmates agreed that it was more fun and exciting to be twenty in the ‘70s than to be seventy in the ‘20s. The different ages of history and biology present us a chronology. But through Kairos (God’s time), we are reminded to also view the calculations of “chronos” (personalized time) through a divine dimension.
As I find my way on a college campus this semester for the first time since I was twenty, I think about how different age groups handle the times of life. Young people of every time, even Jesus’ time, seem emboldened to challenge humanly created structures, bureaucracies, and institutes. Jesus, while in His twenties, challenged authority, too, especially His church which, He argued, contained many humanly misguided precepts, even though divinely inspired. The challenge He gave governing bodies was respectful yet serious. Modern iconoclasm ought to be respectful and serious, too. But it doesn’t always seem so. The rebellious questioning by youth in the 1960s and 70s—hippies with black arm bands gathering for the protest-of-the-day and forming kumbaya circles to channel love and peace–was passionate but I don’t think it carried the vitriol that often accompanies today’s attacks (like threatening the lives of Supreme Court Justices, comparing political leaders to Hitler and Nazis, or condemning the LBGT community as enemies of God). Whether it is the United States’ government or the Catholic Church’s, when political or ecclesial pundits view their opposition as misguided or wrong-headed, it can be healthy, competitive banter; but when they contrive opponents as evil, they have crossed a hallowed line.
A wonderful component of college campuses is the exchange of thought and sharing of ideas across ages, cultures, and belief systems, between youthful students and older faculty and staff, without condemnation. Catholic universities might have an upper hand on this task because they are so deeply rooted in Cardinal Newman’s “Idea of a University.” In it, he promotes not just knowledge, good sense, reason, and logic but also virtue, truth, and the realization that doctrine and morality evolve as we disentangle thoughts, opinions, and judgments while comparing ideas and training good members of society with enlightened minds and healthy souls. Unrelenting progressives and rad-trads (radical traditionalists) will probably always get attention in our political and ecclesial societies, some that want a “woke” culture and some that are drawn to a militant sense of life’s sociological warfare. College communities, amid rainbow flags and BLM signs that are frowned upon or condemned in parishes, tend to look upon those who are different from the majority or the norm because they are gay or ultraconservative or whatever as simply being wired differently; they also seem more sympathetic to Latino immigrants or Muslim garments than average citizens because they are more tuned-in to multi-cultural experiences.
In parishes, it’s different. In over thirty years of pastoring, I have heard hundreds (if not thousands) of churchgoers comment that they are afraid of being attacked if they speak openly and honestly about issues like these. That is unfortunate. I wish that society could embrace the idea of a university where the purpose is to seek knowledge, understanding, and wisdom—and especially a religious university where wisdom is viewed beyond intellect as a biblical ideal that brings about holiness. I may be naïve as I get started in this new line of work but, for now, I’ll think of it as hopeful.
For a few months, I was once in my twenties in the ‘70s and, down the road, I may get to be seventy in the ‘20s. I hope that, as a life-long learner, I will gain much wisdom from those entering their twenties now, I will come to a better understanding my chronos and God’s Kairos, and I will allow that wisdom to lead to holiness.