Encouragement for a New Year

College students are dreamers: if we were not, why would we be in college? The path of higher education is one of striving for the knowledge and wisdom that equip us to do more than what we are currently capable of doing. Don’t we all dream of doing great things to make the world better? By accomplishing those goals, we hope that we will be happy and make others happy. With the beginning of another school-year and its new opportunities upon us, it is worth asking: where are our dreams leading us?

Well, St John Paul the Great certainly knew the answer to that: our dreams have one true direction, and when we lose sight of that we can be disappointed and lose hope. As he told the crowds at World Youth Day in 2000:

It is Jesus in fact that you seek when you dream of happiness; he is waiting for you when nothing else you find satisfies you; he is the beauty to which you are so attracted; it is he who provokes you with that thirst for fullness that will not let you settle for compromise; it is he who urges you to shed the masks of a false life; it is he who reads in your hearts your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle. It is Jesus who stirs in you the desire to do something great with your lives, the will to follow an ideal, the refusal to allow yourselves to be grounded down by mediocrity, the courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society, making the world more human and more fraternal. -St. John Paul the Great

What else is there to add? Really, JPII has covered it all. College students, as self-sufficient and successful as we may try to be, like all human beings need Christ and long for Him in the depths of our being. As classes begin, drawing behind them the challenges and excitement of another year on campus, heeding JPII’s message will make all the difference in our success and happiness. In fact, thinking a bit about his words could give us some very practical ideas—since this blog is really all about practicality in case you haven’t noticed—of how to keep our eyes set on Jesus who can and will fulfill the desires of our hearts!

  • When nothing else you find satisfies you

Where do we expect to find satisfaction? Media and marketing outlets bombard us with promises of “satisfaction guaranteed,” and sometimes we may be inclined to believe them. If we only buy the right technological gadget to keep us amused, then we will be happy; or if we only get the right job and make enough money to be comfortable, then we will be happy; or if we only meet the right person and have a fairy tale romance, then we will be happy; or if we only make it to Disney World once in our lives, then we will be happy (because it’s the happiest place on earth, right?). Are those things really true? Most of the commercials, movies, music, and books popular today try to tell us that they are.  It is important to remember that the commercial groups putting out that content often have a very good reason for making you think that some specific material thing will make you happy: they want your business.

One of the best ways to break free from the idea that our real happiness is to be conscientious about the media you take in. Images and words can alter our thinking, so deliberately choosing content that gives you real hope in Christ can be very powerful! Why not try to find some books, music, or movies with Christian or at least hopeful messages?

  • The beauty to which you are so attracted

As desperately as our hearts seek God, He seeks us even more intensely! In the book of the prophet Hosea, God says of His beloved people Israel, “Therefore, I will now allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her” (Hosea 2.14). God is appealing to us every moment in all of creation. That is amazing.

Wherever we encounter anything beautiful and true, we can encounter God. As a student, I like to ask God to open my eyes to His beauty and light through my studies. It is very simple to say a quick prayer before going to class or sitting down to your reading assignments. When we ask the Holy Spirit to direct our hearts and minds to Him, He will take care of the rest.

St Thomas Aquinas wrote a wonderful prayer for this very purpose. It is a bit much to memorize, but even putting a copy of it near your desk or creating a simplified version for yourself is a great way to open up to God’s love in your academic life.

  • Shed the masks of a false life

As the saying goes, “keep it real.” Today, it is easier than ever to create masks for ourselves: social media and texting literally allow us to manage how others perceive us by editing what we say and the image we project. That also means that we can easily be taken in by the customized images of self our friends present and compare ourselves to them. Of course, one of the best ways to shed the false masks we put up on the internet is to cut-back on social media usage, but social media is also a great tool for sharing good and genuine messages. When using these technologies, we just have to remember that no account or online conversation can ever capture the fullness of a person. The best way to see people as they are and to be seen for what we are is to strive to see in everyone that which God made us to be, images of Himself!

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (Genesis 1.27)

That beats any Instagram story.

  • Your most genuine choices, the choices that others try to stifle

image by Calligraphy by Carla {link to https://calligraphybycarla.com/products/pp-001-serenity-prayer-8×10}

What does St John Paul mean by “genuine choices,” and how do we know our choices are genuine? As he says, genuine choices are often in danger of being stifled by others, that is by the world. All that is genuine and true is from God, so our genuine choices are the ones which He plants in our hearts to draw us to Himself. Like the Sower in the parable, Christ plants the seed of His Word, but those seeds are in danger of being stifled by thorns of worldly concerns about what others think and expect of us. When God is prompting us to make a choice, a chance for a new sprout to grow and extend our faith, we can turn to Him for strength to make the right choice and accept whatever comes of it, confident that it is ultimately for the best. The perfect prayer for these situations when we know the choice we should make but are reluctant because of fear is the full Serenity Prayer. I say “ full” because there is a second half to the classic prayer that hardly anyone knows, but it is just as helpful as the first half is!

 

  • The courage to commit yourselves humbly and patiently to improving yourselves and society

It is interesting that St. John Paul puts improving yourself ahead of improving society; it seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? We need to improve ourselves first because then we will be able to do the most we are capable of doing for society. We need to start with prayer to enter into communion with God, and then we can share in His redemptive work by improving society. This reminds me of that traditional hymn which runs, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” One great way to actively seek the Kingdom and righteousness of God is to offer yourself and your day to Him. In the morning or throughout the day whenever you are feeling a bit weary or realize that you have let your attention be diverted from God, just pray, “Lord I offer you this day and myself. Please do with them what you will!” The work of redeeming human society is not ours but God’s. As Christ told His apostles when they asked who could can be saved, “For mortals it is impossible, but for God all things are possible” (Matthew 19.26).

God bless us all this coming year! He is calling us all home to Himself, and He will show us the way to our dreams.

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