The Hopes of a Young FCJ on Our Bicentenary Year: Part III
This is Part III of a reflection on what it means for me to be a young FCJ in today's world. Read Part I here and Part II here.
3. People of Our Time
A short piece in the local newspaper about millennials and burnout caught my attention a few days ago. On doing further research I discovered the hypothesis made by some commentators that “millennials” suffer from a type of burnout specific to their generation. In a nutshell, this generation has – because of the expectations placed on them by society, and the prevalence of communications technology – internalized the idea that they must always be working, and that it is not enough just to be “average”, but they must always strive to be the best. As a result, they overcommit, work too much, are unable to relax without feeling guilty or thinking of what they should do next, and are more prone to mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.
Whether or not I am a “millennial” at age 32 depends on which categorization you use – and I am sure that this generalization applies only to particular socio-economic contexts – but I certainly recognized myself in the description of their problems, along with many of my peers who struggle with the same. Intrigued to think that this could be a generational issue, I went home and tested the hypothesis on the rather small sample size of non-millennial FCJs around the dinner table. To my surprise, while all of them worked hard, none of them felt that they should be working all the time, and they were curious as to why I did!
This small episode brought home to me again the fact that each generation, coming of age in its particular time and circumstances, has its particular shape and struggle (though of course not everyone goes through the same experiences or is shaped the same way). Whatever the exterior manifestations, though, I am sure they are all expressions of the very human needs and desires that we share deep down. The millennials’ compulsion to work probably arises, fundamentally, from our need to be loved, to know we are loved; to love in return and be a part of something bigger than ourselves. In our own ways – rightly or wrongly – we are all looking for something that transcends the fleeting, fragile nature of our mundane reality. We are looking for God.
To be an FCJ in this time – and any other time – I think, is first to put God at the centre of our lives; to seek and cling to God with all our heart and soul and strength. And then, as a natural result of that, we become companions to others in our common search for God. Because each generation and place has its own circumstances and challenges, we need to be attuned to these and help ourselves and others learn to discern what is of God and what does not lead to life. These days, unbridled consumerism, the “throwaway culture” and the “technological mindset” – all identified by Pope Francis in Laudato Si – are realities that we need to navigate and question. Communications technology and the digital world offer hope as well as pitfalls. As people of our generation, we also share the responsibility of living the questions posed to us by modernity. Fortunately, we are blessed by a tradition of discernment and reflection that can help us as they have helped our sisters through the years, and by the vows we take as religious that free us – to the extent that we are aware and willing – to a counter-cultural way of living that seeks to keep our hearts centred on God.
I can hardly imagine the kinds of changes we will face in a world that is so rapidly evolving – even in my short lifetime! But I hope that as we move forward into the third century as FCJs, we will be open to “the joys and the hopes, the griefs and the anxieties” of the people of our age (as the Church urged us decades ago in Gaudium et Spes). At the same time, may we continue to be sustained by the resources of our FCJ tradition, which keep our hearts free for God and the service of others.
What about you? What are your hopes as we move into the future?