When I am a passenger in a car during a road trip I enjoy looking out the window at the passing countryside. I generally become silent because there truly is much to notice or to inspire thought. On a recent road trip I noticed a billboard which read: “Purpose found in the Marine Corps.” This sign got me thinking about what it means to have a sense of purpose and how important it is to consider, not just once, but throughout our lives. For some, finding purpose can seem elusive, but that may be because we are looking for it in the world rather than where it is actually found. Our true purpose is found in our relationship with God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) In the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius of Loyola says that our purpose is to know, love, and serve the Lord. He said this because he knew from experience that all earthy occupations and commitments have an everlasting purpose if they are rooted in Jesus Christ and thus, they provide joy. If not, he discovered, our pursuits are empty and lead to a sense of unrest and unhappiness. But with Christ we have hope; and if we realize our lives are about discipleship, and pray for discernment in how to live it daily, then everything we do has a purpose. In short, recognizing God’s great love for us, responding to it, and sharing it with others is the purpose of every Child of God.
When our purpose is rooted in God, it is rooted in the mercy and love which builds up the Kingdom. Our world is in much need, and even our smallest efforts to live the gospel have lasting effects whether we see ‘results’ or not. When our lives are rooted in Christ everything we do is in service to Him and therefore it is indeed a holy work. St. Ignatius describes our purpose like this: “Human persons are created to praise, reverence, and serve God the Lord and by this means attain salvation. The other things of this earth are created for us, to help us in attaining the purpose for which we are created….” * In short, everything we have, (including our unique giftedness), and everything we do should be oriented toward coming to better know, love, and serve the Lord. In this end we will find our greatest joy, even when the path involves suffering along the way.
It is important to recognize that our purpose is more about who we are and less about what we do. What we do will express our identity in Christ; that is, our identity is about acknowledging and accepting His love and then responding to it. In other words, who we are will affect what we do. There are two important facets of our identity which will affect our sense of purpose. First, we are God’s children, made for His love. That is, the creative act, the gift of life, is a result of God’s love, which is why life is so sacred: in the beginning God lovingly breathed His own breath into Adam and Eve, creating them with His own hands. (Genesis 2) Forever after, God has wanted to develop a relationship with each of His children because it is His very nature. He is Love; although He chooses to do so, it is simply impossible for Him not to love us. Thus, He wants us to know Him intimately as He knows us. It is through spending time with Him in prayer, as well as in our daily attentiveness, that we come to grow in awareness of His presence and in who He is.
Second, we were made to love. God has oriented us to both receive and share love. Love is a choice, a commitment, which leads to action; it is not really love unless it is shared. We are made to offer this love through the actions of our daily lives that others would come to know the love of God, too. Love, therefore, is a form of evangelization, our lived expression of the gospel. Jesus taught in His words and deeds that the greatest love was in laying down our lives for others. ‘Laying down our lives’ means becoming more other-centered and less centered on our own comfort or wants; it means making sacrifices such as those parents continuously make for their children. It can mean working for justice, feeding and clothing the poor, welcoming the stranger, providing services for those lacking them, offering our time, talent, or treasure to help others as needs arise. It means responding in mercy, forgiveness, and care, especially to those who challenge us or are difficult to be with. And it means spending time in adoration, worship, and all forms of prayer in order to immerse ourselves in God’s presence, to be immersed in Love, so that we can discern how we need to grow in our response and way of proceeding in daily life.
St. Thérèse of Lisieux wrote that her vocation was love.** Indeed, our purpose is to be love as we share the love of Christ with others. This is the call of the gospel message of Jesus. Love is the purpose from which we spring, of which we eat (in the Eucharist), and it is the purpose for which we are intended to return when we arrive in Heaven. No matter what happens in our lives, we are held fast by Love. And if we cling to Jesus in turn, we will find, along with faith and hope, the love that moves mountains.
May we discern through prayer how to better know, love, and serve the Lord! May we know the Love of God more clearly every day so that we might respond to others in love, too! And may we find joy in following Jesus, the one who is Love! Let us meet in the Heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
*The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, translated by Elisabeth Meier Tetlow; this is a portion of the Principle and Foundation, (paragraph 23 of the Exercises).
** Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, page 194, third edition, translated by John Clarke, O.C.D.
1. My photo, Rocky Mountains in Colorado.
2. Drawing, St. Ignatius at Prayer in Rome, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. If you are interested in this image for purchase in one of many mediums, it can be found at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-ignatius-at-prayer-in-rome-william-hart-mcnichols.html
3. Black and white drawing of the sculpture, The Creation of Adam, found at Chartres Cathedral in Chartres, France.
4. Painting, First Steps (after Millet), Vincent van Gogh, 1890.
5. Photo, St. Thérèse of Lisieux taken at her convent.
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Heart Speaks to Heart