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What does it mean to be an adult? It’s a straightforward question evading simple answers. In a clear and definitive tone, the Baltimore Catechism tells us that God made us to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this world; and to be happy with Him forever in the next. If this is our intended telos, then surely human maturity—that is, adulthood—must take up the tasks of knowing, loving and serving God in a way that corresponds to a given individual’s abilities and situation. This four-part series, then, first takes up the question of what adulthood means, then takes up the idea of knowing God (through education), loving and serving Him (through worship and the states of life) and eternal beatitude (holiness being the ultimate expression of human maturity!).

Adulthood: Man Fully Alive

A troubling new trend suggests that instead of being an adult, it is sufficient “to adult” when necessary—that is, to undertake what responsible adults do: pay the bills, control one’s temper, etc. Once the often unpleasant tasks have been accomplished, the role of adult can be cast aside, to be reassumed at a later time. But there must come a time when we put aside “childish ways,” as St. Paul admonishes. Only in laying aside our “I” and embracing the good of the other, wholly and selflessly, can we reach human maturity. This issue takes up the theme of adulthood and the current coming-of-age crisis.

Entering the School of Life

An adult is a grown up, someone who has developed to the point of maturity. He or she has “graduated from school,” so to speak. Now what? The dreaded platitude intoned at every graduation comes to mind: “‘commencement’ means a beginning not an end.” But what is it we are about to begin? Or, better, into what precisely are we about to be initiated? Skepticism? Doubt? Distraction? This issue proposes adulthood as a “school of life” where “students”—now on their own two feet—verify the truth they have been given as they seek it more deeply, and become teachers themselves.

Saying "I Do"

What does it mean to be an adult? Some think of maturity in terms of self-possession. But what if adulthood is actually the condition in which we realize that we do not, in fact, “possess” ourselves? What if being truly adult means being ready and willing to say “I do,” to give ourselves away—wholly and irrevocably—to another? To mature as a human being implies a certain “ripeness,” the ability to bear fruit. But we can only do that when we have made a complete gift of self to another (or Another). That is why we possess ourselves in the first place, to have something to give.

"By Their Fruits..."

When a plant grows to maturity, it bears fruit. This comes naturally. In the human situation too, bearing good fruit is not just something we adults are supposed to do, even less something we do only for others. It is something we want to do. We see this in the joy of a mother and father when a child is born and in the satisfaction we feel when we give life to those in need: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the lonely, the depressed, the addicted. We see it in the faces of the saints; in the face of a woman like Catherine Doherty. The law of charity is inscribed in our very being.

Humanum: Issues in Family, Culture & Science
Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
620 Michigan Ave. N.E. (McGivney Hall)
Washington, DC 20064