Sunday, June 21, 2015

Faith and Meaning

On Fathers Day especially, I think of qualities my father and all good fathers possess in abundance: love (he tried to do his best for us); commitment (he stuck by us); support (he gave us as much as he could); forgiveness (he wasn’t afraid to say he’s sorry); communication (he spent time and was ready to listen to us); spirituality (we went to church and prayed together).

The Book of Job addresses the question:  why does it seem the wicked prosper and the innocent suffer? God does not answer Job’s question directly; he addresses Job out of a storm -- the image of the mighty sea and the power of water -- to show that He is mightier than the waters of the sea.  Yes, God is the creator and guide of this awesome universe; and we are simply fragile creatures.  We definitely are not in control!

Rembrandt's Storm at Sea
In the Gospel according to Mark, Jesus is on a small boat in the Sea of Galilee.  And suddenly a storm arises with howling winds and crashing waves.  How could Jesus be asleep but he is.   The frightened disciples awaken Jesus to cry out for salvation.  Jesus simply calms the waters and asks the frightened disciples: do you not yet have faith in God?

We live ever so briefly on a planet that is billions of years old.  We see astonishing courage and compassion, and also appalling cruelty and injustice.  We search for meaning and connectedness.

One of my favorite college books was Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl.  In the 1930s, Frankl had a wife, two children, a good profession as a psychiatrist and a comfortable home.  But he lost all of these, every earthly thing he treasured, first his home and profession, and then in the death camp at Dachau, he lost his wife and children.

These losses brought him face-to-face with the fundamental questions of human life:  Who really am I?  How should I live? What is the purpose of my life?

Frankl discovered that people could put up with incredible hardships, cruelties and sufferings, without losing their will to live and their respect for one another, if they saw that these hardships had some greater meaning.

In their hearts, people yearn for something or someone beyond themselves that can give meaning and value to their lives.  Our faith professes that Someone is Jesus Christ, our way to eternal life, our truth who sets us free from falsehoods and our light who illumines our darkness to our earthly journey to our heavenly home.

Something is not quite right with this planet.  There is love, life, courage, integrity and compassion; but there is also cruelty, greed, hate, ignorance.  This planet cries out for a healer, a reconciler.  And Jesus is our healer.  And this Jesus, risen and alive among us, anticipates our own indescribable life beyond this earthly life.

St. John Paul II wrote: “It is no accident that we are here.  Each and every human person has been created in the ‘image and likeness’ of the One who is the origin of all that is.  We have within us the capacity for wisdom and virtue.   With these gifts, and with the help of God’s grace, we, faith-filled people, can build a civilization worthy of the human person.”

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