Our teen years can be the best of times, but they can also be the scariest of times. It is during our early development that we begin experiencing the awakening of the fullness of our humanity, psychologically, emotionally, socially, sexually, and spiritually. We start to ask ourselves what it means to be open to experiencing life, to accepting the gift of our humanity, answering questions like why do we exist, what is our purpose in life?
When I was in high school, I asked myself these questions. But I did so, mostly, within the confines of my own mind. I didn’t reach out too much. I kept my questions, emotions, joys, and struggles pretty much bottled up inside. This is not a healthy practice, because, at that age, I hadn’t developed the discipline of discernment, I hadn’t lived enough to have the benefit of the gift of lived experience.
During my last two years of high school, I experienced some intimate interactions with God that I have shared in past reflections as well as even just for the briefest of seconds, his absence. I remember one evening while in bed I tried to imagine life without God, an eternity without God. I then tried to imagine absolute nothingness. I don’t remember for how long, but I do remember the instant and split second that I experienced that sense of nothingness and feeling an absence of God. It was not pleasant, it was unnerving, and it was a wake-up call.
No matter our age, we have a lot on our plate, there is a lot that we are dealing with. There are a lot of temptations that pull at us, that if we give in to can destroy our relationships, that can take our very lives. The most dangerous one to buy into is the lie that we walk this journey of life alone. We need one another, we need to risk reaching out to share our fear, our pain, our questions, with somebody, even better a core group of those we can trust. Yes, there will be those who we reach out to that will not be there for us, there will be those who do not nor want to understand, there will be those that we encounter that will be cruel. But this we can be clear about, please let these words soak into the very core and fiber of your being:
Always remember that you are unique, you are one of a kind, you are special, you are loved, and you are a gift to your family, friends, your parish, church, or place of worship, community, and the world. Read this section again, aloud if you have to.
As we age, we hope to progress in wisdom, as wisdom is considered the “perfection of prudence,” as is shared in the first reading from Wisdom. Prudence is the virtue that we develop which allows us to make the right decision, at the proper time, and even while facing temptations and stress. “Resplendent and unfading is wisdom, and she is readily perceived by those who love her, and found by those who seek her” (Wisdom 6:12). Seeking wisdom leads us to seek a life worth living, which is to live outside of one’s self for the purpose of willing the good of others. This is to be true even despite the forces that will work against us. Living our faith means taking a risk: a risk, that we will not be understood, a risk that we will be hurt, a risk that we will be rejected.
Do we allow our fears, anxieties, doubts, and a minimalist approach to just settle to rob us? If you thought yes, then you are not alone. We all do! But we don’t have to stay in that state.
St. Mother Teresa said, “A life not lived for others is not a life.” How can she say that? Because she knew Jesus intimately, she experienced him in the depth of her soul, answered his call to serve the poorest of the poor, even, when for the last fifty years of her life she experienced an absence from him who called her.
How do we live our life for someone else?
Like St Mother Teresa. We look for Jesus in each person we interact with and we do so when we treat each person we meet with dignity and respect. We resist judging another and accepting them as they are and where they are. We welcome them as our brothers and sisters. This stance ought to be our foundational approach. From that point, each of us also has a unique vocation of service. Some way that we can contribute to the Body of Christ that God uniquely calls us to.
We need to be careful though that our day to day demands as students, workers, family providers and caregivers, material and social pursuits, don’t consume all our time and distract us from our purpose in life.
This is the point of The Parable of the Ten Virgins. We can only develop a relationship with Jesus, only develop our faith for ourselves. We can’t do it for others. I can share stories from my experiences to show you the possibilities, the reality from my perspective as life in relationship with Jesus but you have to experience Jesus for yourself. You must see the relevance of Jesus in your life. You must be willing to receive his forgiveness and his love and answer his call to begin your vocational path.
Like I imagined nothingness for that briefest of moments, can you imagine living 20, 30, 50, or 60 years, or your whole life, never knowing your purpose? Unaware and without hope, like St. Paul wrote about in the second reading today (cf 1 Thessalonians 4:13)? Do we want to just go through the motions, to fiddle our life away, and to miss out on a life of joy and fulfillment that God has in store for us? The good news is that it is never too late to begin. And even if we have already said yes, each day is a new beginning, each day we are called to deepen our relationship, to rededicate our willingness to go out to love God, love others, and make disciples.
May we ask God each day: “What is our purpose in life?” No matter who we are or what our status in life, we are loved. Please receive the reality of that Gift from the God of all creation. Then from a place of thankfulness, may we seek to pursue the freedom for excellence that embraces life with a singular purpose that guides us every day. What is it that God would have us do? What brings us fulfillment and joy? If we do not know how, or where to begin, Jesus knows, let us turn to him to seek his wisdom and guidance.
May we embrace the gift God has given us, his life for us, the dignity of our own humanity, and that of one another. In today’s gospel reading, the problem with the five virgins who had not filled up their oil lamps was that they did not bother to do so. Fr. James Martin, S.J. shared in a talk that, “Sin for Jesus was a failure to bother to love.”
Being a Christian, embracing our humanity, is to bother. We are made to care. We are to go out from our comfort zones empowered by the Holy Spirit to live life fully with joy, to seek our unique purpose, to treat each other with love, mercy, caring, and kindness. We don’t have to have all the answers, we don’t have to fix ourselves and those we meet. We just need to be willing to walk with one another, to care for each other, and let God happen.
As the election process now comes to a close, may we commit daily to work for healing and reconciliation. We will do this when we respect each other as human beings. That does not mean that we all have to agree but that we are willing to listen to and respect the dignity of one another.
Photo from my ordination from 2013, photo credit – Deacon Michael Miller