Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302
by Father Michael Savelesky, for the Inland Register
(From the Nov. 16, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)
In a rare (?) ornery moment the other day, I questioned a 16-year-old about the purpose and direction of his life. Using a quote from my childhood catechetical lessons, I asked: “Why did God make you?”
I expected the snap answer that I had learned: “To know, love and serve him in this world and to be with him in the next.”
All I got was a mumbled: “Wha… Be good, I guess.”
Thinking that I had caught this sprouting youth unfairly at an awkward moment, later in the week I purposefully imposed my query on a few other unsuspecting souls – several of them much older than he.
It was interesting. From most of them I got the same, or a quite similar, answer. Some more, some less articulate than the teenager. Only a few knew the “right” catechetical answer .
What prompted my inquisitiveness was watching traffic zooming back and forth on a busy city street. From the vantage point of an onlooker, the scene was intriguing. Trucks were lugging their loads down the hot, dusty asphalt. Fire trucks and police cars went their screaming way with obvious purpose. But most cars (many of them SUVs) vied for position, taking their chances with local radar. On occasion I even noticed the gestures, words and looks of road rage. Everyone seemed to be in a hurry to get somewhere.
They were driving with an insistence, speed and impatience that seemed to indicate a direction and purpose – but I wonder. Yes, if I dared to stop traffic and ask drivers where they were headed, each would have a specific answer. But having been in the traffic mix many a time myself, I wonder if the sense of direction and purpose would have had any greater depth than a destination like the store, grandmother’s house, an espresso stand or home.
The traffic struck me as a fast-moving image of our contemporary culture. The inquiries I directed randomly to a few individuals seemed to confirm my observation.
All of us are very busy about many things and we are in a hurry to get them done. We often have a refined sense of immediate purpose and plan, but the vision at times is short-sighted. And, in turn, that short-sightedness can reinforce a certain shallowness of life.
Some commentators observe that ours is a frightened and lonely culture. They note that we fill our lives with activities and entertainment galore. As our busy-ness and our entertainment keep increasing in quantity and volume of display (and even violence), they note that we seem to run ever faster from “something.” Running from ourselves, they surmise. Running from the inescapable fact that the human heart hungers for meaning, purpose and direction. That hunger ultimately can be satisfied, not by things and experiences, but only by relationships. Hence, our cultural loneliness.
In the midst of life’s traffic pattern, we sense a loneliness that we fear admitting. In our contemporary culture, to admit that we hunger and are in need is a confession of weakness. Jesus faced this loneliness head-on when he identified himself in John’s Gospel as the Bread of Life. “I am the Bread of Life. The one who comes to me will never be hungry .The one who believes in me will never be thirsty.” His words sound pious and poetic, but they are profoundly true and life-giving.
Jesus obviously knew that people had to eat. He would not object to the fact that we now have zooming cars to zip us to fast-food restaurants. We do have to eat to keep the body functioning. What concerns Jesus is the fact that our destiny does not end at the store, the sports arena, or the beautiful mansion we call home. It begins and ends in relationship with the God who has created us. It ends with eternal or everlasting. When we are ignorant of that reality or lose touch with it, we die.
Ask Jesus why God made us human beings and there would be no “Wha…..” Nor would his response betray a fear of God as one who merely treats us as puppets who had better obey his will. He would hardly respond, “To be good, I guess.” Even Jesus may not use the age-old catechetical response: “To know, love and serve God in this world and to be with him in the next.” But he would communicate a profound sense of direction and destiny for us. Busy as we may be, our hearts are hungry until they are satisfied with a living relationship with a loving God who alone can make our lives full of purpose and meaning.
The next time we are zooming down the road going God-knows-where, it may well be to our spiritual benefit to ask ourselves, “Where on earth (literally) are we going?” And listen to our answer.
(Father Savelesky is pastor of Assumption Parish in Spokane.)
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