Thursday, December 17, 2009

A brief note on the meaning and purpose of human existence

Advent is clicking by at a rapid pace. Since this is a time of waiting in joyful hope for the Lord's return the quickness with which it passes it indicative of life. The rapidity of life, which becomes more apparent to everyone with each passing year, makes us all search all the more for life's meaning and purpose. To have purpose our lives must have meaning. Without meaning there can be no purpose. I think believing that life can have purpose without meaning is fairly widespread in our day. I don't decide what the meaning of my life is, just making a pragmatic move, my life has inherent meaning. Only from meaning can purpose arise. The purpose of our lives is to love, which means laying our lives down in the service of others.

We are created by love in order to love. The meaning of life, what my life means to me, is revealed in how I live, not necessarily in what I say. To truly love, to act charitably, means giving without calculation, with expecting anything in return. This is easy enough to say, or to write, but difficult to live because sooner or later, after giving what I deem to be a lot of myself, I want something for my efforts. Even though Christ promises me the hundredfold, the increase in reason, in understanding, in love, etc., if my giving of myself involves calculation, the determination to get something for myself, then I lose what little I have.

"Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us"(1 John 4:7-12). Just as to be is to be made, to be brought into being an Other, in order to really love we must first be loved by an Other.

To love another is to love her/his destiny, which means love requires some detachment, some objectivity, as well as knowledge of the purpose of my own life. For example, I may think I am loving another by enabling behavior that does not accord with his destiny. In such a case, I am not loving him, far from it. This is where we see, in practical terms, how the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Loving the destiny of another requires reason. It means wanting for the other what I want for myself, which is true happiness, genuine fulfillment. This leads us by a circuitous route back to meaning and purpose. Again, the meaning of the existence of every human being is inherent our being, as part and parcel of existence, it is a given, which is why human beings are creatures that seek meaning. We sense the meaning of our loves in many different and varied ways, most especially in our longing, our desire. Jesus Christ is the key to unlocking our understanding, to opening our eyes. The opening of our eyes happens for us like it happened for Saul of Tarsus, through an encounter with the risen Lord. Hence, it is rooted in experience, not discourse.

Today, as we begin the O Antiphons, we pray for Wisdom:

"O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High,
reaching from one end to the other mightily,
and sweetly ordering all things:
Come and teach us the way of prudence."

Prudence governs all the virtues. Prudence is what allows me to to truly love another, to relate to her with a view towards her destiny. Prudence means using reason to help me determine whether to act, when to act, and how to act. Judging well is being prudent and to be prudent is to be wise, in turn, to be wise is to love well, which is nothing other acting with purpose in light of life's meaning.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks very much for this, Scott. It dovetails very nicely with my recent meditations.


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