Photo courtesy of Tania Rego. Retrieved from: http://agenciabrasil.ebc.com.br/sites/_agenciabrasil/files/gallery_assist/25/gallery_assist726601/ABr260713TRABr.jpg
Your Life Is Not About You
I love the end of the school year. The youthful exuberance and hope that permeates these days marked by graduation celebrations and the promise of new beginnings bring joy to the heart, and inspiration too, to live life with the same zeal that we see in those graduates who are looking forward to new beginnings. Enthusiasm for life is contagious. Yet, often within just a few years the hopeful expectations that surround graduation are tempered by disappointments or a felt lack of fulfillment. Worldly endeavors, in and of themselves, do not satisfy in any lasting way. Even after an accomplishment, we can be left wondering if there is not something more to our lives.
The famous American preacher archbishop Fulton J. Sheen wrote, “Joy never comes to those who seek it. In the self-forgetting hour when we are touched by another’s need and sacrifice for it, we suddenly find our soul aflame with glorious joy.” I believe that Archbishop Sheen was correct, and with these words he offers good counsel not only to graduates, but also to all of us. If we set out looking for joy, even with hopefulness and enthusiasm, we will not find it, because joy is not something we can simply grasp for ourselves. Rather, it is a by-product of living lives of sacrificial love. As our Lord said, “Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will save it” (Luke 17:33).
Several years ago I was blessed to spend some weeks with the Missionaries of Charity Sisters, colloquially called the MCs, in Ethiopia. I had never before spent any time in a country listed among the least developed. I went without any real expectations, and came back a deeply moved and changed man. What was so powerful to me was the witness of the sisters as they lovingly and selflessly served the abandoned, poor, hungry, destitute and dying of Addis Abbaba or Jima.
These beautiful women clothed themselves from head to toe in the simple and iconic white and blue Sari habit worn by Mother Teresa. They had left careers as doctors, nurses, teachers, or bankers. They were intelligent and capable. They freely embraced lives of poverty, chastity, and obedience. The sisters rose daily before sunrise to pray, and finished every evening invoking God’s mercy upon those who would die that night. Their lives were directly contrary to everything that American pop culture taught me makes for happiness. They had no wealth, sex, fine clothes, or luxury. They subjected their personal freedom to God and their superior. And yet, their lives were radiantly joyful. Full of zest for life and hopefulness, these sisters were living proof that Archbishop Sheen and our Lord are right. Our lives aren’t really about us; only if we lose them will we find the joy of saving them.