Sitting in a packed Palm Sunday Mass at the student parish of a major midwestern university, I was struck by the great "social capital" possessed by those students who have a tradition, an ancient framework for the trajectory of their lives. The students at Mass are part of a long arc in history with many, many philosophers, theologians, novelists, and poets who reflect the drama of life in Christian terms--not to mention the Bible itself (larger in size for Catholics than for Protestants) which itself is a complex and rich library of life.
At whatever stage these students are--you, of course, cannot assume anything from mere presence at the liturgy, these students have some ancient and supranational roots. In contrast, I know and have observed many people of the same age or not too much older who live a completely deracinated life. They are not part of any great philosophical or religious tradition. The great landmarks and transitions of their lives are not marked by any traditional rituals. And, certainly, the passing of each week is not marked by the ritual of assembling with others weekly to consider what has happened in the past week and may happen in their lives in the coming week.
Many deracinated individuals are often caught up in consumerism and mindless self-entertainment because they lack relation to anything greater. Surely those students at the liturgy--like me and the rest of us--are very, very far from perfect; but they do have this one thing: they are not alone in navigating life. They are exposed regularly to sources of wisdom, and sometimes this exposure may even make a major difference in their lives. Being part of a community with a tradition of wisdom is powerful social capital for our human flourishing. Too many compeletely lack this social capital and thus seem to run in aimless circles.
(Image via Wikimedia Commons)