Chaplain's Corner + Being True to Our Purpose
"Have a purpose in life, and having it, throw into your work such strength of mind and muscle as God has given you," wrote1 Scottish essayist, historian, teacher and writer Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881). This highlights the importance of keeping focus on the goal to be attained. Canadian educator and writer Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990), author of The Peter Principle (1968), put it this way: "If you don't know where you are going, you will probably end up somewhere else."2 As the Book of Leviticus encourages us, we can have God at our side in our journey of life. "I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people." (Leviticus 26:12).
The Buddhist tradition, while eschewing a personal God, nevertheless holds to the view of individual and group responsibility, so much so that one Buddhist scholar wrote: "Thus we are capable of changing ourselves, even to the extent of changing the world.... If we start toward the direction performing wholesome acts from this very moment, then our future will be full of brightness."3
Purpose in life is more complex in Hindu teaching. It involves four features: dharma (paying debts (thanks) for being born, cared for by parents and teachers, respect for guests and other living things; artha, (prosperity) guided by dharma; kama (desire) as is appropriate in terms of dharma and artha, and moksha (enlightenment) self realization, that is to say, liberation and attaining a sense of being one with God and the universe.4
The Hebrew sense of the purpose of life stems from Genesis." And he said: Let us make man to our image and likeness: and let him have dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth." (Gn 1: 26). Rabbinical scholars have seen this as meaning that mankind "was to elevate and refine the whole of nature, including the beasts and animals, to the service of true humanity."5
A good Christian summary of man's purpose in life is given in the Catechism of the Catholic Church: "God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life. For this reason, at every time and in every place, God draws close to man. He calls man to seek him, to know him, to love him with all his strength."6 That God is to be our guide toward pursuing our purpose in life is poetically expressed thus by the Eastern Church spiritual father, St. Symeon the New Theologian, "So who would draw nearer to Him? .... He gives Himself to me ... And I am filled with His love and beauty (Hymn 16)...That is where paradise is ... (Hymn 19)"7
7 [St. Symeon the New Theologian, Hymns of Divine Love]