September 4, 2009

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Basic Catholicism: Why are we here?

John F. Fink(Thirtieth in a series)

It’s part of the nature of humans to be able to consider the ultimate questions about the meaning and purpose of life. Every culture, even the most primitive, has done so, with varying answers.

Some of the answers have come down to us in the Jewish Scriptures that Christians know as the Old Testament. The Book of Proverbs is probably the Old Testament book that best provides the guide for successful living that the ancient Israelites sought.

What about people today? In the midst of our busy lives, do we take time out to reflect on why we are here?

Certainly the secular society in which we live doesn’t encourage such reflection. It encourages us to keep pushing ourselves to succeed in business, to buy as many of the luxuries that our economy produces as we can, to enjoy our entertainments. But why?

Secular society doesn’t have the answer to that question? Religion does. It’s up to our religious leaders to remind us that there is an ultimate purpose to our lives.

As an older Catholic, I have always felt comfortable with the answer to the question “Why did God make you?” that I learned as a child from the old Baltimore Catechism: “God made me to know him, to love him, and to serve him in this life and to be happy with him forever in the next.”

But that simple answer implies considerable work on our part. First, we must come to know God, which means learning as much about him as he has deemed fit to reveal to us. Once we know God, we can’t help but love him since, as the First Letter of John tells us, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8).

If we truly love God, we will want to serve him. To do that means, first and foremost, to discover God’s vocations for us. All of us are called, above all, to obey the two great commandments: “First, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your strength, and with all your mind; and, second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Mk 12:30-31).

Then God calls us to specific ways to do that at different stages of our lives.

We all have calls from God to use the unique gifts and talents that he has given us to accomplish his will for us. We receive many calls as we proceed through life, and we must never stop trying to discern what God is calling us to do—now. God’s call might be different when we are in our 40s, 60s or 80s than when we were in our 20s.

Blessed Teresa of Calcutta once told me and some other journalists I was with: “You cannot do what I do, but I cannot do what you do. Each of us has his or her own work to do. The important thing is that we do something beautiful for God.”

It’s in discerning God’s will for us that we discover why we are here. †

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