Without doubt, many of us are more than disconcerted, disturbed at the contemporary sense of meaninglessness, the Babel-like chaos and confusion which C.S. Lewis’ infamous character Screwtape described as a state of “smudge and blur.”
Newspaper headlines, Facebook posts, blogs and tweets — all daily evidence of the loss of a moral compass, an awareness that relativism reigns supreme. And the facilitating factors that have spawned this era of “smudge and blur”? Among the many issues (break-up and break-down of family, rise in numbers of substance abusers, economic depression, a morass of semantics, etc.), I believe that one specific concern is evidently crucial.
Very few people, it seems, attempt to ponder — much less try to answer — those classically fundamental questions: Who/what am I? Why am I here? Where am I going? How do I get there? Even a superficial reading of the signs of the times reveals that this is true.
It is precisely in the context of this situation, however, that Catholic Christians can provide needed guidance and direction — light in the darkness. Did those existential questions mentioned above trigger the memory of another question and answer that every Catholic used to memorize (yes, memorize, for to “learn by heart” is a Biblical imperative, cf. Dt 6:4)? The question: Why did God make you? The once familiar answer: God made me to know him, to love him and to serve him in this world and to be happy with him in heaven forever.
I am still amazed at the power of this deceptively simple statement! Its clear, straightforward language is refreshingly direct. It is a densely packed, pithy description of our human identity, a summary of basic truths — earthly and eternal. Close examination reveals a veritable treasure, what Jesus would call, I think, a “pearl of great price.” It provides timely, timeless truth — a maximum of meaning in a minimum of words.
Let’s delve into this question/answer more deeply. Verbs, of course, tell the tale. Through the dynamism of three verbs an understanding of the nature of the human person emerges. To know, to love, to choose! Philosophers have written volumes about the corresponding drives of reason seeking to know the “Truth,” the heart seeking “Beauty” and the will seeking the “Good.” Current psychology speaks of the cognitive, affective and volitional dimensions of the human person. Primary school teachers initiate the child into the wonders of the HHH Principle: Heads to think! Hearts to love! Hands to do the good!
Isn’t our understanding of sin and its consequences connected with an experienced (think of the daily news!) lack of harmony in our knowing, loving and choosing? The Hebrew Scripture expresses sinfulness most frequently in the word hattah — translated literally as “missing the mark.” Surely, “Where are you going?” is the crucial question for any traveler. No surprise to find that the answer to the question “Why did God make you?” reminds us that we are hopefully “headed for heaven!”
On a spiritual level, sin is the missing of the mark that is none other than our ultimate destination (heaven) and joy (God himself). Sin’s enterprise, daily manifested in the human drives for power, pleasure and possessions (cf. Jn 2:15-16), is to turn us from our true purpose and identity. If we “miss the mark” of God and his plans for us, we cling to a false self. If we are on target (seeking to know, love and serve God), we will love ourselves and our neighbor in him — and find true happiness. As St. Augustine proclaimed with conviction — conviction crystallized in experience: “You have made us for yourself, O God, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”
The good news of Jesus and his gift of salvation is that through the power of the Holy Spirit, who enlightens the mind and strengthens the will, each of us can indeed know and love God, serve him in this world and be welcomed to the joy of heaven.
The beautiful words of the prayer of Richard of Chichester come to mind: “Lord, may I know you more clearly, love you more dearly, follow you more nearly, day by day.” Let’s make a determined effort to respond to the contemporary challenge of a spiritual amnesia. Let’s counter the “smudge and blur” by retrieving the question, “Why did God make you?” and boldly proclaim its awesome answer.
Sister Sheila Galligan I.H.M., STD, is a theology professor at Immaculata University.
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