A Reason For A Season

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Painting green the leaves of a dying tree may not help the tree, but watering its roots might.  As the horrors of the Tsunami are still alive in our minds, watering our memories with the simple question, “What is the reason for my being left alive?” would be of enormous help.  Instead of questioning the place of God in such a devastating natural phenomenon, we can clarify the meaning of our lives, a meaning that though ever changing, does not cease to be.

While we remember the hundreds of thousands who lost their lives a month ago, it’s worth remembering the catastrophes created by human beings during World War II and in the 1994 genocide in Rwanda.  Some of the written accounts from each of these events are austere, simple, and spontaneous, yet are also deeply moving, and reveal the deepest mystery of human existence.  The great heroes of World War II that have left their mark on this theme in particular are Victor Frankl, Walter Ciszek, and Maximilian Kolbe, each of whom found a purpose and incredible courage, either to live through unimaginable horror, or to choose a noble cause to die for ? for the sake of others.

Many think about an extraordinary calling as soon as they hear the word “vocation.”  The vocation that I have in mind is a common one: “a passion to work for, a mission to accomplish, a purpose to live for and a cause to die for.”  This purpose takes a different shape and form at different phases of a person’s life.  It may evolve and change but it does not cease to be.  It is so distinct and so unique to each person that no one else can live out that purpose for the other.  If this purpose or mission is not clear, life can be experienced as a gigantic burden with little fascination.  It is a continuous discovery of the fact that “there are many things worth living for, a few things worth dying for but there’s none worth killing for.”  It was what Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I submit to you that if a man hasn’t discovered something he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”

No state of life is exempt from having a purpose and a meaning in life.  It’s equally true that we can have all the means of living without having a meaning in life.  Passion for life comes with discovering something worth knowing, worth doing, work working towards.  It is not primarily about the ambition to reach a certain rung on the ladder of success, success that modern culture measures in terms of financial reward or social prestige.  It is about a spiritual power that mobilizes energy and enthusiasm and becomes a positive structure in one’s life, that transcends one’s own wants and needs and personal satisfaction.  It is all about living a life fully for others.

Victor Frankl, a psychologist and psychiatrist, recounts his life in his book Man’s Search for Meaning. On his own, Frankl developed logotherapy, a combination of psychology and philosophy, to help people search for values and meaning in a world often devoid of both.  He tested his theory amidst the torture of the concentration camps, which put his ideas to the supreme test.  Its effect is, on the one hand, awe-inspiring, chilling, humbling, and deeply moving; on the other hand, it is all about Fredrick Nietzsche’s philosophical truth, “he who has a WHY to live can bear with almost any HOW.”   Speaking about situations beyond our control he holds that the ultimate human nature lies in our capacity to choose an attitude in any given situation.

“With God in Russia,” the heart-tearing and mind-boggling personal story of Walter Ciszek, also communicates the gripping, astounding endurance of his twenty-three years in Russian prison camps in Siberia.  The incredible rigors of his daily life as a prisoner neither shake his extraordinary faith in God nor his commitment to his ministry, despite the constant danger of being put to death.  His book will stand out as one of the best-written accounts of such a situation, not so much for its grammatically correct matter-of-fact story, or for exposing the dangerous and destructive political ideology of the time, but for his theologically sound truth that reflects the heroic patience, endurance, fortitude and complete trust in God in situations which are ?the worst’ by any human standards.

The driving force of humanity at the best and worst of times is man’s deepest desire to search for meaning and purpose in life.  If what one looks for is not compatible with the true values of common humanity, it can destroy hope and bring the future of humankind to its worst levels.  These fascinating works, which originated in the authors’ experience of torture chambers, look simple, yet they reveal the sophisticated nature of the tremendous human mind, and they provide a view of the possibility of who we humans can be.  In the words of Frankl, this possibility is to be “a swine or a saint.”

Life is an occasion to explore our future instead of our past.  No matter where we are and what we do, human beings are more than ?human doings.’  For us Christians, the fundamental and the most important truth of faith is that each person is the image and likeness of God, and defending the worth and dignity of everyone is an uncompromising obligation. Life is too full of meaning for man to comprehend: it is essentially incomprehensible because it lies in a higher realm than that of man’s imagination. God, and the purpose for which He created each individual, is at the center of human existence; love and creativity, when they are put into a proper perspective, can make this world a better place for everyone.  The way to holiness and the means to gain Eternal Life consist in doing ordinary day-to-day things for the Glory of God and for the betterment of the society.  It might also mean sacrificing one’s life, as Maximilian Kolbe did, as an act of love for one’s neighbor, with a simple testimony that had neither curse nor guile: “I am a Roman Catholic priest from Poland.  I would like to take his place because he has a wife and children.”

Author: Joseph DSouza- AMKCPS

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