(Greg Carpinello’s speech for the Class of 2016 CFJ Magis Society Induction Dinner)
15 years ago, I was in your shoes – finishing a great four years at Xavier University and having all the feels… is that what ya’ll say these days? Have all the feels? My heart was full from the experiences I had, I was ecstatic to be finishing but stressed with everything I had to do TO finish, I was wishing I didn’t have to say goodbye to friends, to this place, but also excited to take the next step in life, and mostly, mostly nervous about it all… nervous about the transitions.
15 years after going through it all – I want to share a simple message with you tonight as you enter this thing called the Magis Society: what you have done with us here in the CFJ over the last few years doesn’t have to end, though it will look different after you leave this place and it won’t always be easy to do.
Do me a favor. Make a fist and place it into your other hand. Transitions like the one you’re experiencing now – typically triggers within us as humans, the impulse to want to cling to things, to hold on tightly to them: friends, places, senses of ourselves, the familiar, the comfortable. The trick, though, is that by clinging tightly to these things in life, we actually end up suffocating them… these relationships, these images of ourselves, these comforts – they actually die, even though we’re trying to hold onto them and save them.
So I want you to think about what you have learned with us in the CFJ over the past four years, to reflect on how you have grown:
Open one finger because you’ve experienced falling in love with people, with friends and community here at Xavier.
Open a second finger because you’ve fallen in love with ideas about what the world could look while at Xavier.
Open a third finger because you’ve fallen in love with this place on earth, this campus, because of the memories you have made here.
Open a fourth finger because you’ve fallen in love with my truest self by realizing that I’m not called to be someone else like Mother Theresa, Ghandi, MLK, or my parents, and I’ve learned that I am just called to be the most authentic version of myself.
Open your last finger because you have fallen in love with the concept of living passionately, because you have glimpsed that here at times over the last four years.
Now stop – continue holding your hands together – palms facing upwards. Falling in love leads to this kind of a posture. And this is how we want you to approach this transition from Xavier and your life as Magis Society members after you leave this place. An approach to life with open hands does indeed risk having to let go of people or places or ideas once dear to us. With open hands we give these joys and blessings the freedom to fly and the freedom to depart. But it’s the only approach that truly allows us to receive greater meaning in our lives. That’s the cycle of life. We come to know something bigger and better only through allowing room for that kind of freedom, even though it feels like loss, difficulty and struggle at first.
The danger of this upcoming transition for you is this: You will want to clench your fists and turn back into yourself. The world tells us to clench our fists and avoid the pain that transitions bring.
In the coming years of this next chapter of your life as young alumni, you will hear the world tell you some variation of the following messages:
Buy this ________ and it will make you happy.
Seek convenience and personal comfort at all costs, avoid pain and suffering at all costs.
Religion and spirituality is irrelevant in the world today.
People won’t change and the world can’t be changed.
And college was the best years of your life.
Sounds depressing, but there is hope. And that hope can be found in the stories you have created through the programming of the CFJ of the last four years. I read through your essays in your applications for the Magis Society and one thing rang clearly through all of them:
You have lived counter-culturally already in your time with us, and you’re poised to continue doing so after you leave and you’re poised to continue doing so in the face of those messages you’ll hear out in the world.
If we fixate on, and dream about, and work towards buying “things” and “stuff” then the immediate adrenaline rush of acquiring WILL deceive us for happiness. But I know that your time here with us at Xavier has given you a glimpse of how the opposite is true, that your happiness will truly come from within, your happiness will be sustained by community, a sense of purpose and a connection to something greater than yourself. If we’re not careful, our things and stuff in life start to possess us, not the other way around. And if we’re possessed by our stuff, then we’ll never have hearts open to love.
If we seek convenience and personal comfort at all costs, then we will ignore the needs of others and of the earth. Our culture tells us that we should seek independence and isolation from others because it’s convenient and comfortable. If convenience and comfort become our gods, then we will NOT know kinship and solidarity. But I can see by what you wrote that during your time with us, you have learned that love is not always convenient and does not always keep us safe, not radical love at least. And though our culture tells us to avoid pain and suffering – I can attest that it is more wise to hold pain and suffering in our lives and to transform it, instead of trying to avoid it or repress it. I know this much is true – your heart will ache in the future. Relationships and dreams may end, your closest family and friends will pass away, you will lose sight of who you are and what the purpose of life is. I hope for you that these moments are few and far between, but I can assure you they will come. Let these moments of suffering lead you to a greater capacity to love.
Religion and spirituality get dismissed in the world as mindless doctrine, dogma, rules. Honestly, you should dismiss it too if it does become for you nothing more than an us-versus-them belonging system. But I know by what you wrote that you have experienced faith with your eyes and hearts open, your consciences attuned to dialoguing with tradition. If you continue to admit you don’t have all the answers, if you continue to open your hearts, then religion can be transformative. And above all, I know you’ve learned that religion and faith is not just something you attend once a week. You’ve learned that faith can only be expressed through the ways we love one another.
People won’t change, especially if we expect them not to. If we succumb to the polarization of our day (politically, religiously, in our families and in our towns), then we will never give people a chance and we collectively and individually will never go deeper in life. The world can’t be changed and it won’t be changed if we give up. I know by your own reflections that you’re not a group willing to give up so easily. You’ve made Xavier better and the world can be better, and it will get better, step by step, if committed people like you continue to band together and believe in it. And as Dorothy Day once said, the only solution to every problem that has ever come up is love.
I’ll finish with talking about that last negative message you have or will hear: College will be the best four years of your life, because maybe you’re even starting to believe that yourself. At the very least, I know you’re probably getting sad to leave this place and this community. Allow me to share Pedro Arrupe’s famous poem with you now:
Nothing is more practical than finding God, than falling in 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 morning, what you do with your evenings, how you spend your weekends, what you read, whom 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.
Here’s what I have learned over those last 15 years since I sat where you now sit:
Falling in love can be a great feeling, a great sensation, one of the truly universal human experiences that make life worth living. Some fall in love multiple times in their life, with ideas, causes, or people. As we talked about just a few minutes ago, these last four years have probably had a lot of “falling in love” for you. Over the past 15 years I’ve learned tough lessons about what else has to happen in order for committed love to blossom from this initial fall. I’ve learned that you have to love and accept yourself before that love of something external to you can really take root. Until then, that experience of falling love will remain incomplete.
While “falling in love” with something or someone conjures up dreamy fairy-tale scenarios of finding the perfect companion, or dedicating your total self to a social cause, or pursuing a mystical spiritual life, the next part of the quote is often missed: stay in love. And “staying in love” takes work, “staying in love” is a choice, “staying in love” demands sacrifice. The Jesuits love to talk about solidarity, forming men and women for and with others. We often reference that in terms of building solidarity with the strangers or neighbors in our lives. To stay in love with the cause of social justice, I’ve learned that I have to stay proximate in some way to people who are different from me, to people who are marginalized. I’ve also learned that I am called to build solidarity in my most intimate interpersonal relationships with family and friends. I have learned that staying in love has a lot to do with this solidarity: weaving my fate with the fate of my partner, with the fates of my children. Not a day goes by where this isn’t put to the test. Each day brings an opportunity to put “us” over “me.” Each day brings an opportunity to be a better man, partner, father, and to be a more loving version of myself in all those roles.
And this kind of staying in love has decided everything. Over the years of my education in love I have failed. At times I have disappointed myself and others, at other times I have worked hard. At times I have been selfish, at others I have sacrificed. I have at times felt empty and at other points I have felt the fullness of love. But no matter how much I have failed or succeeded, I do know that it has decided everything. For that I am grateful. I am grateful for staying in love with my partner, because there is something very gratifying at knowing I’ll be supported in everything I face in life. I am grateful for staying in love with my family because there is no better way to understand unconditional love than to sacrifice some relaxation time in order to clean up after a sick kid and then feel his heavy head upon my shoulder. I am grateful for staying in love with a career in ministry because there is nothing more fulfilling than working nights and weekends and early mornings, year in and year out, and then at the end of each year to hear graduating seniors like you talk about how the work of CFJ has helped transform them into people ready to serve in the world. These are my everythings that were decided by falling in love and staying love.
So, yes, college will be the best years of your life, if don’t work to stay in love. And college will be the best years of your life if you do nothing but live in the past and succumb to the messages the world wants you to believe. But if you stay attentive no matter where you are, what you’re doing, or who you’re with (just like you have HERE!)… if you stay reflective in your life, always seeking meaning, just the way you have here… if you leap and follow love in radical ways even when it hurts, even when it makes you vulnerable, even when it calls you to do unexpected things, even when it seems like you are aren’t good enough, even when you can’t see the path ahead of you… then trust me college will not be the best years of your life, but every RIGHT NOW will be the best moments, the best years of your life, whether you’re 25 or 35 or 85. If you live each day passionately, you will know a lasting joy that can’t be confined to any 4 year period. If you live each day passionately, your life will be a gift to yourself and to the world around you. This is our hope for you. This is our hope for you, that your membership in the Magis Society is a continual reminder to live deeply these ways.
Greg Carpinello serves as the Director of the Center for Faith and Justice at Xavier University.
We will miss the Class of 2016, but we look forward to seeing the ways they will shape the world!