Year for Priests: Asking students what they want from life

By Basilian Father Chris Valka
One in a series

Over the past few weeks, I have spent a lot of time talking with students about life after high school.  College is a given for my students, but few really know what they want to do with their education.  Their imagination conjures lofty ideas of success, measured by objects and a level of happiness.  Like most high school students, they hope for an exciting career with stability, disposable income, family, and plenty of time for their favorite sport.

Most of the time, I simply smile and chuckle a little. But this past week I decided it was time for a different approach.  I asked my students to make a list of 15 things or events that brings them excitement.  At first, they thought this would be easy as they quickly rattled off numbers one through five . . . or six, but then it began to get tough.

Go ahead, give it a try for yourself.  Make a list of 15 things/events that brings you excitement.

Difficult?  We would like to think that it is easy, but I find that there are few things that we really get excited about.  I explained to my students that excitement requires humility.  Excitement comes with surprise.  When we expect a certain level of fulfillment or believe we are entitled to this or that — there is often little excitement involved.  Think about it — when have you been the most excited?  I would guess that it is usually when you had no idea an event or gift was coming.

So the lesson here is:  more humility = more excitement in life.

Years ago, I read an article by Kathleen McAlpin in Review for Religious where she wrote, “What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything.  It will decide what will get you out of bed in the morning, what you will do in the evening, how you will spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, what amazes you with joy and gratitude.”

As I paraphrased this quote off the top of my head, I asked my students a second question:  “What are you convicted about?”

Based on the classroom discussion, I would guess 90 percent of my seniors know what they want in life, but they have no idea how to get it.  They are influenced by media-driven images of success and self-centered notions of duty; and yet, I believe their heart is in the right place.  My students, like all young adults, are a reflection of their environment, so all it takes is a different environment for them to see a different path.  As we discussed it all, my students determined that the quality of their education is not simply measured by the number of books they read, but by how many people they encounter.

I find many adults short-change the ability of young people to contribute to the world.  There are many days when my students frustrate me, but there are also days when I am amazed at their goodness and creativity.  If young people seem selfish, I wonder if it is because we, as the adults, have not empowered them to take on a challenge they feel is worthy of the risk and effort.

Father Adolfo Nicolás, the superior general of the Jesuits, said,  “We must recover our ability to dream great things.  We need dreams that cannot be sold, dreams that say maybe there is something for me to contribute.  Our lives must reflect the reality:  the only security we have is hope.”

If we are to be a model for our young people today, perhaps we can start by dreaming a little more and a little bigger than usual.  Perhaps we can share those dreams with the young people in our lives.  Perhaps the humility we are looking for will come from the excitement in their lives.

Father Chris Valka, CSB, was ordained a priest for the Congregation of St. Basil last May and is teaching at Detroit Catholic Central High School in Michigan.

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One Response to Year for Priests: Asking students what they want from life

  1. James says:

    Good piece. Young people have great desires!

    The quote from Review for Religious is actually part of a larger very beautiful quote from Pedro Arrupe SJ, superior general of the jesuits 1965-81:

    “Nothing is more practical than finding God, that is, than falling in a love in a quite absolute, final way. What you are in love with, what seizes your imagination will affect everything. It will decide what will get you out of bed in the mornings, what you will do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, who you know, what breaks your heart, and what amazes you with joy and gratitude. Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.”

    He also said, on being asked who Christ was for him: “for me, Jesus Christ is everything!”

    Happy Easter!

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