For the past four years, I’ve had the privilege of serving on the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Congress established the Commission in 1998 to monitor religious freedom around the world as a basic human right. Service on this Commission has been an extraordinary experience. But I’m not here today representing the commission, or the Holy See, or the American bishops, or the Vatican’s Mission to the United Nations. I hope I’ll have something interesting to say, and I look forward to answering your questions. But my comments are purely my own, as a private Catholic citizen just like you.
I have two tasks today. I want to talk about religious tolerance and intolerance. And I also want to talk about you. As college students, you’re already young adults. In a few years you’ll have jobs and families. Some of you will be doctors, teachers, or business leaders. Some of you will go into politics or the military. Many of you will have children. And all of you will be responsible.
What I mean by “responsible” is this. St. Paul tells us: “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things” (1 Cor. 14:20). You’re about to inherit the most powerful nation in history. Each of you has the talent, goodwill, and energy to use that power well.
But the problem is that much of American culture right now is built on an adolescent fiction. The fiction is that life is all about you as an individual—your ideas, your appetites, and your needs. Believe me: It isn’t. The main interest big companies have in your wants and mine is how to turn them into a profit. Part of being an adult is the ability to separate marketing from reality; hype from fact. The fact is, the world is a big and complicated place. It doesn’t care about your appetites. It has too many of its own needs, and it won’t leave you alone.
God made you for a purpose. The world needs the gifts he gave you. Adulthood brings power. Power brings responsibility. And the meaning of your life will hinge on a simple, basic choice. Will you engage the world with your heart and brains and faith, and work to make it a better place—not just for yourself and the people you love but also for people you don’t even know whose survival depends on your service to the common good? Or will you wrap yourself in a blanket of noise and toys and consumer junk, and stay a child?
God gave you a free will. How you use that gift is your choice—but it’s a choice you won’t be able to avoid. And that choice has consequences. Continue Reading …