Most Reverend Donald J. Hying
Auxiliary Bishop of Milwaukee
Does God have a plan for my life? Is there an order and purpose to my days or is my existence just a random collision of people, events and decisions?
Our minds and hearts long for meaning; we want our lives with the work, joy and suffering that we experience to ultimately matter to someone. As Christians, we believe that God comes to meet us through a divine plan of Revelation, inviting us into a sacred relationship through Christ.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “God, who ‘dwells in unapproachable light,’ wants to communicate his own divine life to the men he freely created, in order to adopt them as his sons in his only-begotten Son. By revealing himself God wishes to make them capable of responding to him, and of loving him far beyond their own natural capacity” #52.
While our individual vocations of marriage, parenthood, priesthood, serving as a nurse, a cook or a lawyer are a mysterious convergence of God’s intention and our free will, ultimately, we all have the same purpose – to become adopted children of God, to enter even now into the sacred life of the Trinity, to love the Lord with all our hearts and to serve the unfolding of the kingdom of heaven.
In his infinite love for us, Jesus invites us into the very relationship he enjoys with the Father. Who Jesus is by nature, we become ourselves through the initiation of baptism and the subsequent sacraments.
St. Paul speaks of this spiritual adoption, this divine filiation in Romans 8, Galatians 4 and Ephesians 1. The catechism mentions it 23 times; it is also prevalent in the Roman Missal, especially in the prayers for baptism and confirmation. Through the whole Christ event – the Incarnation, public ministry, Passion, death and resurrection, the Ascension and Pentecost, God opens the door of his heart, inviting us to enter into the very life of the Trinity, even as God comes to dwell within us through the wonder of sanctifying grace.
St. Irenaeus beautifully images this union of the divine and human as God and humanity becoming accustomed to each other: “The Word of God dwelt in man and became the Son of man in order to accustom man to perceive God and to accustom God to dwell in man, according to the Father’s pleasure” #53.
I love the idea that my life is a romantic adventure, a marriage of my soul to God, that my days and years are a gradual unfolding of the Lord and me growing ever more comfortable with each other, that the meaning of my life is mysteriously eternal and knowingly transparent in the immediacy of the present moment.
When we come to realize that we only exist for the praise of God’s glory, that even now we are enjoying this new life and identity in the very heart of the Trinity’s eternal love, life becomes full for us.
Our prayer goes deeper and longer, our participation in the Eucharist grows in understanding and feeling, our confessions become more honest and self-aware, the trivial does not bother us as much, suffering leads us into the self-emptying of the cross and our human relationships are marked by a sacrificial love that leads us beyond the petty concerns and fears that are constantly nagging us for attention.
Henry David Thoreau famously said: “I went to the woods to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
How sad it would be to come to the end of our lives only to discover that, in fact, we had never really lived, that we were preoccupied with the wrong things, that we never really discovered who we are or why we were here.
The practice of our faith gives us the meaning and purpose for which we long, our spiritual adoption in Christ bestows an identity upon us richer than our wildest dreams, our particular vocation needs all the love that we can give in order to flourish, every day presents a fresh opportunity for God and us to become more accustomed to each other.
When we find ourselves astonished by the overwhelming graciousness of God, all we can do is pass on to others what we ourselves have received. That beautiful handing over of self is truly the work and project of a lifetime.
(This column first appeared in the October 25, 2012 issue of the Catholic Herald)