Monday, September 20, 2010

A Life That Mattered

Charles de Foucauld, a failure by any worldly standard, died faithful to that to which he had been called.
"When you have done all you have been commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do." Luke 17:10

It was my great pleasure to celebrate the Sunday Masses in Ft. Pierre over the weekend.  I have been there several times previously as a priest, and I was there on a number of occasions as a seminarians.  Over the course of these visits, I have come to know a particular couple relatively well.  Like a feral cat that is tamed by the regular ministrations of a kindly old woman, these two have wooed me into a quiet comfort in their presence.  I had not expected this, as they have some rather vehement convictions which they are ready to share with whomever is around to listen.  I don't necessarily disagree with their convictions, but I am sometimes intimidated by the fervor with which they hold them.  Regardless, as I say, I have grown rather fond of them.

On Saturday evening, I was invited to join them for dinner.  While in their home, they told me that the husband is suffering from pancreatic cancer.  It is terminal, though it remains unclear exactly how long he will abide in this earthly dwelling among the Church Militant.  As we talked, he spent a great deal of time thinking aloud about how God would choose to use him in these final days or weeks or months.  That conversations drew me into reflection about our desire to lead meaningful lives.

All of us, I think, want our lives to be important.  All of us want to die believing that we did something significant, and that the world is better because we were in it.  It is not uncommon, as I talk with the elderly and the lonely, that they spend a great deal of time talking about who they once were and what they used to do.  I am often saddened as I leave to realize that the duration of the conversation has been an exercise in finding significance.  "Was I important?" they all seem to ask.

There are lots of ways to answer this question.  From the worldly view, most of us are relatively inconsequential.  Few of us will be elected to office.  Few of us will be famous, and few of us will have someone who visits our grave more than two or three generations from now.  To desire to be important in this way is decidedly contrary to a Christian outlook on life.  It is for this reason that it is essential that we approach life asking ,"What is God asking me to do?"

A priest at St. Paul Seminary preached powerfully one day as the year was nearing its end and as seminarians were undergoing annual evaluations.  He commented that while all of us are naturally inclined to worry that we might be asked to leave formation, it would be worth while to remember that our goal is to accomplish that which God has called us to.  He pointedly asked, "What if God has brought you to the seminary only because your presence here was essential in preparing the man next to you to become a priest?  What if, having accomplished the missions for which he called you here, he permits that you would be asked to leave?  Should this be the case, who are you to complain?"

This is where the question of the significance of my life can really take on new meaning, because it suggests that as long as I have done what God has called me to do, I have lived a worthwhile life  My life has been important.  I have left the world different and better.  And I may never, in this life, know how.

In the end, we must all come to recognize that I serve God not mostly because of what I get out of it, but because he is God and I am not, and as a result of this fact, I owe him my humble obedience.  The paradox of it is that I find, in doing what I am asked only because I am asked to do so, that I am rewarded with peace and joy.  From these, perhaps we will arrive at the conclusion that while we may have only been unprofitable servants, doing only what we were obliged to do, we have merited the most significant kind of life - an eternal one spent in the loving embrace of the master. 


  1. Father, your blog is resonating in Minnesota.

  2. I have been thinking about this subject lately; partly because I have family members who live very secular lives. For them, the things they do and acquire are important; the pleasures they can afford become their validation. For me, I don't care what I leave behind, I only want to live the kind of life that leads to heaven. God has not called me to greatness or popularity; He has called me to a life of prayer for others, particularly for the Holy Souls and the dying. This isn't something I deliberately chose, but I believe it is His Will for me. I hope and pray that my eternity will also be spent with my Redeemer.


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