Editor’s Note: I’m delighted to share the following guest post from Justin Worthing, a senior theology and economics major at Xavier University. I’m grateful to him for sharing these year-end reflections, recently published in The Xavier Newswire, and have added photos from a trip I took last fall with Justin and his fellow theology majors to the Abbey of Gethsemani in Trappist, KY. My congratulations and prayers of thanksgiving for Justin and his fellow theology majors – and for graduating students everywhere now turning toward the next stage of their pilgrimage. In the spirit of love and hopefulness we journey with you!
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I like to conclude each year by reflecting on its surprises: I like remembering the plans I had in my past and their inevitable interruption by my future. But as I begin to write this senior column, I realize that these surprises really have been the theme of the past four years. The personal outcomes of each year were always impossible to predict at their start, but each result — joyful or painful — proved rewarding and transformative in some form. I would like to use this space to honor the unexpected throughout my Xavier career and share the insights that two of these moments offered.
I am a theology major, but I arrived at Xavier ready to abandon religion for good. I was drawn to the “education for the whole person” that Xavier claimed it provided, but my original plan was to distance myself from its more religious parts. This was because I struggled with my faith during my senior year of high school when I realized I did not know why I believed what I believed. When I asked my friends and family why we did what we did, I never received satisfactory answers. So I left the Church, resolving to live my life without any real spiritual component. The Jesuits, or rather Jesuit education, had other plans.
I was surprised by how drawn I was to my theology classes at Xavier. I enjoyed discussing service and justice and its implications for a spiritual life. I studied ways in which our understanding of religion has changed over time, and I talked with friends about how the traditions can be co-opted by consumer culture and apathy, among other factors. I learned that religion can teach us about ways of living in the world that have been long forgotten, ways that lead to liberating discipline, fruitful solitude and authentic peace.
Never during my time in high school would I have expected to pursue a theology education, but now it’s an integral part of who I am. It may be only another step in a long spiritual search; I share this story because I want to draw attention to the deeply enriching opportunity we have here at Xavier.
There will probably be nowhere else in your life where you can explore religion and spirituality with the same amount of resources and support. If you consider yourself religious, use the space at Xavier to examine why you believe what you believe. If you are firmly against religion or spirituality in any way, I encourage you to examine those assumptions through your relationships with people of faith. I assure you that your beliefs will change in some form and better reflect your choices and your thoughts, regardless of who you are.
But there is, of course, more that makes Xavier unique than its religious identity. Never would I have considered using the term “social justice” to describe my interests before college, but Jesuit education can take credit for this, too. I decided to participate in the Urban Academic Learning Semester during my sophomore year because I liked service and enjoyed how I felt when I helped others.
My semester living in the heart of Over-The-Rhine removed the veil, revealing a marginalized part of America. I visited with people experiencing homelessness, drug addiction, financial insecurity and gentrification, and for the first time I realized that the root of such causes could not be solved by charity alone.
My desire to serve transformed into an intense interest in race, privilege, urban development, economics and community, among other related issues. Through those relationships, I began to discover what it means to be a man for and with others.
The opportunities Xavier provides us to engage with the local and global community can change your whole outlook on what it means to live well in society. If you truly open yourself to such experiences, it will change the way you look at your place in the world.
You will learn how to love those different than you and not feel pressured to change who they are. You will learn how fascinating the world is, which is a fact we forget all too often in our busy routines. And you will feel more complete and more human as a result.
Perhaps I am simply rephrasing the cliché that life exists outside your comfort zone, but remember that you are privileged to go not just to a respected university, you go to a Jesuit university. Embrace the surprises that accompany this gift.