20 December, 2007

Not the latest gossip

Here's some good news that will never make headlines.

A substantial number of young men and women pass through young adulthood largely unsoiled by the metaphorical mud of the world. They do this in spite of the fact that our culture throws this mud in their direction at every opportunity. A substantial amount of television programming—especially programming aimed at younger age groups—and a substantial number of painful experiences suggest that developing virtue is not a way to get ahead in life, to prosper financially, to become popular, or to win the admiration of that special person who makes one's heart flutter.

These young men and women focus on honesty and decency instead of self-interest and scandal. They offer themselves in generous service to the community and to the poor instead of squandering their hours in entertainment and looking down on those less fortunate than they. They work hard and try to contribute to the building up of society rather than waiting for someone else to change their diapers, so to speak. They keep their thoughts and their language pure, and treasure their sexuality as a gift to be shared in all its fullness, not merely a toy for physical or emotional gratification.

It takes hard work to develop virtue. Anyone who works hard at it will succeed, but the hardest part is finding a way to cope with the incomprehension of one's peers, if not their scorn. A young person striving for virtue is very fortunate if s/he can find a group of like-minded peers, engage them in conversation, and enjoy healthy entertainment with them.

There are a lot of you out there struggling to do what you believe is right, a lot more than anyone acknowledges. You deserve recognition. You've likely failed in more ways than one, picked up the pieces, and tried again.

Society will not recognize your effort, even if you are always successful. Instead, it will deny your existence and condemn you as a naïve square and an immature prude. If it catches you in failure, it broadcasts your hypocrisy, ignores your attempts to take responsibility for your failure, and mocks your resolve to change for the better. Even if you should succeed, it is highly unlikely that anyone will reward you, recognize you, or make a headline out of you.

In all likelihood, you are a naïve square and an immature prude. You know what? There's nothing wrong with that. That doesn't make you anything less than a human being. Society may not recognize your inner beauty, but God does. In the eyes of God, your struggle for virtue makes you more precious than gold, seven times refined. The Christian faith teaches that God humbled himself in his Son to be born like you: as helpless and fragile as my newborn daughter. God knows your failings, but he also knows your potential. Whose opinion is more important: society's, or God's?

You will probably not succeed in every struggle. God allows us to fail sometimes, so as to humble us and remind us that our focus should be on God and not on ourselves.

However, I assure you that the struggle is worthwhile. Success, in the form of grace, breeds joy. This isn't a shallow, empty-headed joy that everyone experiences at some time or another; it's much deeper, and more substantial. You will find yourself healthier and, in all likelihood, happier than most other people you know.

What your peers call "unhealthy repression" is very often the gateway to freedom. What your peers call "liberation" is very often a code word for enslavement. Anyone who tells you that you have to try everything at least once—be it drugs, pornography, shoplifting, dishonesty, what have you—is trying to make a slave out of you. Ask your acquaintance when s/he will spend a few hours underground, with a corpse in a coffin. After all, s/he has to try everything at least once, and s/he's pressuring you to do this very thing to your soul.

No, that's too negative. Instead, ask your acquaintance when s/he will try the pursuit of holiness.

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