With graduation just over a month away, seniors are wisely looking back and trying to make sense of it all. Such reflection is very Jesuit — reflecting on one’s experience to discern its meaning.
Memory is a powerful tool as you retrace your steps from New Student Orientation to Senior Week. Some of those memories fill you with delight, while others bring regret. Such ambiguity is natural because a human life, to paraphrase a proverb, is a crooked line that God writes straight. Maturity is about learning to live with ambiguity. In the Jesuit view, wisdom is the key to living well in the midst of the beauty and messiness of human life.
A senior recently gave me a speech that Fr. Timothy S. Healy, S.J., former president of Georgetown, offered to graduating seniors at Georgetown Preparatory School in 1978. In his remarks, Healy offered the following counsel: “The beginning of wisdom is the love of one other human being. … If you haven’t learned to love, you haven’t learned anything at all. All education is ultimately moral — and no matter how much you learn, it can succeed only if you come out of it free, and good and loving.”
Free, good and loving are very helpful benchmarks to consider as seniors reflect on their time at Georgetown.
To be free is to be authentic. An inner compass guides free people, not close-minded biases, the latest fad or the will of the crowd. The freedom here is interior. Free people know their limitations and gifts and are at peace with being works in progress. They are not captive to the present, because they have a grateful memory. Nor are they fearful of the future, because they have bold, hopeful, long-term vision. They are OK with everything not being perfectly neat and figured out by graduation day.
To be good means that what we do flows from the deepest sense of who we are. Good people admit to measures beyond themselves — time-tested values given to them by a tradition. They are mature enough to realize that this moral guidance does not bind them, but liberates them to be truly happy. Just as gardens need fences to flourish, so do human lives.
To love is the most natural response for one who is free and good. Loving has a remarkable calculus: The more we give ourselves to another, the more we are filled beyond our imagining. There is no zero-sum game with loving. Love is so natural because we are not made for ourselves alone; we need intimacy with others. In love, we encounter a holy, human mystery that both allures us and scares us. “Falling in love” — whether romantic or not — is an apt metaphor. We are not always in control, and there is risk of getting hurt or disappointed. But we let go because of the incalculable joy that is part of the adventure of loving.
Loving another person is a wellspring of wisdom because we fall deeply into the ambiguity of human experience and learn lessons far beyond the classroom. I wish it were easier. Growing in freedom, goodness and love is challenging. There are so many resistances to this growth both inside and outside of ourselves. Knowledge is the easy part; wisdom forged in striving to be free, good and loving takes time on the crooked path that God makes straight.
We do this soul-searching and meaning-making in the context of a love so much greater than ourselves. The love of God is our origin and our destiny and sustains our very being and striving. That means that every human experience of loving and being loved is a holy encounter. God is present in our lovemaking and our heart-breaking. God is in the beautiful mess of our lives. That’s why we can address the ambiguities of life with confidence.
A second-semester senior hears a thousand times, “What are you doing next year?” It’s a reasonable question.
Try this for an answer next time: “I’m going to be a free, good and loving person.” You may be met with a laugh or quizzical look, but deep down, you know it’s the only response fitting for one who truly claims a Jesuit education.
Fr. Kevin O’Brien, S.J., is vice president of mission and ministry. This is the final appearance of AS THIS JESUIT SEES IT … this semester.