Empowered by the Spirit: Campus Ministry Faces the Future
A Pastoral Letter on Campus Ministry Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Order copies of this statement at the online bookstore.
IV. Aspects of Campus Ministry
E. Facilitating Personal Development
1. Self-fulfillment in the Academic World
83. Campus ministry has the task of promoting the full personal
development of the members of the academic community in a setting that
is filled with rich, if often neglected, resources for self-fulfillment.
Colleges and universities provide marvelous opportunities for healthy
personal growth. Classes, lectures, and seminars provide intellectual
stimulation. Cultural and social events broaden horizons and facilitate
emotional growth. The greatest catalyst for development comes from
interaction with the concerned people who make up the academic
community. There are campus ministers who can provide guidance for the
spiritual quest; administrators who possess broad visions and sensitive
hearts; faculty members who are generous in sharing the results of their
scholarship; international students who bring the richness of different
cultures; and peers who are willing to share friendship and the common
struggle for greater maturity. With all of these resources, many
individuals find the academic world to be an ideal setting for
establishing their identities, forming relationships, developing their
talents, preparing for leadership, discerning their vocations, and
charting the direction of their lives.
84. On the other hand, this vast potential for growth is often
ignored or impeded. Some students think of college only in terms of
opening the door to a good job and a secure future. They attend classes,
gain credits, and manage to graduate. Learning to think critically and
achieving a well-rounded personality through involvement on campus are
not part of their program. For these students, the call to
self-fulfillment either falls on deaf ears or is interpreted exclusively
in terms of a lucrative career and material success. The great
potential of higher education to promote personal development can also
lie dormant because of the policies and practices of colleges and
universities themselves. The traditional task of producing well-rounded
individuals who are prepared to serve the common good can recede into
the background, as policy decisions are made on the basis of declining
enrollments and financial pressures. Recently, voices from within the
academic community have been raised, claiming that higher education has
not remained faithful to its traditional goals and is not living up to
its potential. Some say this is because students are not involved enough
in the whole learning process.52 One report claims that
administrators and faculty have lost their nerve in the face of cultural
trends and student pressures. It charges that leaders, by failing to
insist on the systematic study of the humanities, have effectively
deprived students of the cultural heritage that is needed for a
well-rounded education.53 Others decry the lack of a coherent
curriculum and call for diverse learning experiences that foster
critical thinking and help produce integrated persons who can live
responsibly and joyfully as individuals and democratic citizens.54
Among the critics, there is general agreement that reform is needed so
that colleges and universities can achieve their proper goal of
facilitating the full personal development of students.
2. Christian Perspectives on Self-fulfillment
85. The Church has the task of distinguishing and evaluating the many voices of our age.55
Campus ministry must be attuned to the voices of reform in the academic
community and be prepared to function as the friend of genuine personal
development and as an ally in the quest for healthy self-fulfillment.
Our Scriptures remind us that the Spirit calls us to put aside childish
ways and to live with greater maturity (1 Cor 14:20). For us Christians,
Jesus Christ is the perfectly fulfilled human being.56 In
him, we see the depth of our potential and sublime character of our
call. "He blazed a trail, and if we follow it, life and death are made
holy and take on a new meaning."57 By following this path of
truth and love, we can grow to full maturity in Christ (Eph 4:15). The
Spirit of Jesus, poured out through his death and resurrection,
energizes us for the task of developing our potential. The same Spirit
enables us to recognize and overcome the selfishness in our hearts and
the contradictions in the culture that distort the quest for healthy
self-fulfillment. When individuals pursue personal development within
the community of faith, they are constantly challenged to use their
talents in the service of others and to stay open to the Spirit, who
accomplishes surprising things in us (Jn 3:8).
86. The Second Vatican Council has given contemporary expression to these biblical insights.58
Human dignity demands that persons act according to intelligent
decisions that are motivated from within. We should pursue our goals in a
free choice of what is good and find apt means to achieve these
laudable goals. The Christian vision of human existence safeguards the
ideal of full human development by rooting it in the sacredness of the
person. All persons are worthy of respect and dignity and are called to
perfection because they are "a living image of God"59 and possess a "godlike seed" that has been sown in them.60
This intrinsic relationship with God, far from limiting the drive for
personal development, frees human beings to pursue their fulfillment and
happiness with confidence.61 Furthermore, life in community
teaches us that personal freedom acquires new strength when it consents
to the requirements of social life, takes on the demands of human
partnership, and commits itself to the service of the human family.62
87. These principles remind us that Christians must proclaim an
ideal of self-fulfillment that is solidly rooted in the sacredness of
persons, is placed in the service of the common good, and stays open to
the God who is the source of all growth.
88. When campus ministry brings the light of the Gospel to the
educational process, the search for personal development leads to a
Christian humanism that fuses the positive values and meanings in the
culture with the light of faith.63 Genuine Christian
humanists know that the heart is restless until it rests in God and that
all persons are unsolved puzzles to themselves, always awaiting the
full revelation of God.64 Thus, for them, personal
development is perceived as a lifelong adventure, completed only in the
final fulfilling union with the Lord. Christian humanists know that
history and all cultures are a mysterious mix of grace and sin65
and that where sin exists, there grace more abounds (Rom 5:20). Thus,
while rejecting the sinful elements in the culture, they are able to
assimilate the grace-inspired meanings and values in the world into a
comprehensive and organic framework, built on faith in Jesus Christ. As
individuals pursue their personal development, the ideal of Christian
humanism lights the path and sets the direction.
3. Achieving Personal Development in a Christian Context
89. Campus ministry can facilitate personal development through
vibrant sacramental life, courses, seminars, and retreats that enable
Catholics on campus to integrate their collegiate experience with their
Christian faith. Through pastoral counseling and spiritual direction,
campus ministers can encourage individuals to make use of the resources
on campus and guide them on the path toward a Christian humanism. This
important work is enhanced when the ministers are perceived as persons
of prayer who are serious about their own personal growth.
90. It is helpful to multiply these efforts by bringing
together, in a personal encounter, those who share the journey toward
Christian maturity. A program that enables an individual faculty member
to meet on a regular basis outside the classroom with a particular
student for friendly conversation and serious discussion provides great
opportunities for the kind of exchange that is mutually enriching.
Faculty members who are inspired by gospel ideals and undergo training
for this kind of program are in an excellent position to be role models
for students and, perhaps, spiritual mentors. Students, in turn, bring
to the relationship their distinctive experience and challenging
questions, which can be a catalyst for mutual growth. A great variety of
such programs is possible. The key is to increase the opportunities for
more personal contact between members of the faith community so that
they can assist one another in the quest for a genuine Christian
91. Since there is a temptation to reduce self-fulfillment to a
selfish individualism, campus ministry provides a valuable service by
keeping alive the ideal of Christian humanism, which recognizes that
personal growth must be open to the transcendent and in service to the
common good. Through prayer groups and liturgical celebrations that link
life and worship, in lectures and seminars that relate current
questions and the Christian tradition, by service projects and actions
for justice that put personal gifts at the service of others, the
community of faith publicly manifests the Christian ideal of
self-fulfillment. The sacrament of reconciliation is a powerful means
for personal development since it enables individuals to confront the
sins and destructive patterns that inhibit their progress and to hear
again the compassionate summons to grow into greater maturity in Christ.
Communal penance services that encourage an examination of the
distinctive challenges and opportunities for personal development
presented by campus life are especially effective in making the ideal of
Christian humanism more concrete.
92. Inspired by this ideal, individual members of the faith
community have the responsibility to assist their colleges or
universities in the task of educating whole persons for lifelong growth
and responsible citizenship. This is done in obvious ways by students
who study hard and take advantage of cultural opportunities on campus
and by faculty members who teach well and take a personal interest in
students. In addition, there is the challenge of establishing
institutional policies and practices that better facilitate these goals.
Today, there is a general consensus that undergraduate education must
be improved by various means, such as setting higher standards for
classroom work, establishing a more coherent curriculum, and improving
teacher performance through better preparation and proper incentives.66
As the precise shape of the reforms is debated on particular campuses,
it is vital that the voices of Christian humanists be joined with others
of good will, on behalf of reform, which makes possible the education
of the whole person. Trustees, administrators, and deans, as well as
faculty members and students who serve on appropriate committees can
promote policies that clearly place the well-being of students in the
center of the academic enterprise. The opportunities are many and varied
for members of the faith community to work with others in an effort to
improve the quality of higher education so that a healthy personal
development is facilitated. What is needed is the conviction that this
is an essential aspect of bringing Christian witness to the campus.
Notes52 See "Involvement in Learning."
53 See Bennett, "To Reclaim a Legacy."
54 See "Integrity in the College Curriculum."
55 "The Church in the Modern World," no. 44.
56 Ibid., no. 22.
58 Ibid., no. 17.
59 "Pastoral Letter on Marxist Communism," in Pastoral Letters, vol. IV, 1975-1983,
60 "The Church in the Modern World," no. 3.
61 Ibid., no. 21.
62 Ibid., no. 31.
63 This term, Christian humanism, has been used in the
Church to suggest the
ideal of integrating positive cultural values and
meanings in a faith perspective.
For a recent usage of this term, see
"Catholic Higher Education," no. 19.
64 "The Church in the Modern World," no. 21.
66 We recall the four reports cited in footnote 8.
Issued by NCCB/USCC, November 15, 1985. Copyright © 1985, United
States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Inc. All rights reserved.