THERE IS a story about St. Thomas Aquinas that I heard in a homily back in 2003 on his feast day. The presider at Mass in the Jesuit Chapel in Gonzaga University shared a story that in the middle of St. Thomas’ writing of his definitive volume, he simply stopped. When his community and colleagues asked him why, he supposedly said that he had encountered God, and that was all that mattered.
How does one account for this? A man whose writings continue to influence philosophy and theology to this day, in the middle of his definitive work, his magnum opus, stops dead in his tracks because he had encountered God, and nothing else mattered.
This Sunday’s Gospel is the Parable of the Sower and the Seed. In the explanation in the Gospel, it says the seed is God’s word, and the soil represents the different types of people or dispositions of people in accepting God and his message.
How does one make oneself more disposed to accepting God’s message and God himself? How does one make God’s message and God himself the center of it all, and nothing else will matter?
In his book “Flow,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has a chapter on “The Making of Meaning.” He refers to meaning as one’s purpose in life. I refer to it as one’s mission in life. For Csikszentmihalyi, this making of meaning orders one’s life, and is the final stage in attaining optimal experience or the flow in one’s life. I believe this making of meaning is the final stage in accepting God’s message and God himself and, in the image of the parable, makes us fertile ground for the seed to sprout into a plant and eventually yield a harvest.
Similar to this is what one of my mentors in the seminary, Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo, SJ, said in a talk I asked him to give to my faculty back in 1996 when I was principal of the Ateneo de Manila High School. After a year of trying to renew our Ignatian character and mission as a Jesuit school, I asked him to share with my faculty his reflections on what it means to live out the Ignatian spirit.
He opened his talk with these lines, “I was asked to give my reflections on what it means to live out the Ignatian spirit; to live out the Ignatian spirit is to set one’s life within the horizon of a dream larger than life.” And in the Ignatian framework, one reorients and reorders everything in one’s life and person in the service of this dream larger than life.
The horizon of a dream larger than life–this is the seed that will eventually yield the harvest, the purpose or meaning that will order one’s life and lead to attaining the optimal experience of flow, the mission that gives meaning and inspiration to one’s life.
The dream is larger than life not because it is a monumental endeavor that will save the world, a country, or a community, but because it invites us to go beyond ourselves and dedicate our life to something greater than our self, the love and service of God and others. It is not how great our mission or work is, but how great the love and service it yields that makes our corner of the world a better place. As Robert Johnson puts it, we discover that the meaning of one’s life lies beyond oneself and is in the service of others.
Larger than life
A dream larger than life–we all had a vision of this, a glimpse of this dream and, at some point, we all desired to follow this dream. Some actually decided to leave “home,” one’s comfort zone, to go on a journey in pursuit of this dream. But somehow, somewhere along the journey, the vision of this dream dims, and the dream gets obscured by the realities of day-to-day life.
Rediscover your dream, the dream that inspired you to take the journey you took and that set you on the path you are now on. In this dream, the horizon of a dream larger than life, lies, your life mission. It is that one moment in your life when, with great clarity you saw and knew what your mission is, what God wanted you to do; when you were fertile ground ready to accept the seed.
Let me end with the story of David taken from “Discovering Your Personal Vocation” by Fr. Herbert Alphonso, SJ.
“At 16 years old David traveled to India with his father, and as he was leaving the train station in Bombay, he tripped over a mother and her baby sleeping in the mud. Then and there he felt he was called to help the homeless, that his essence was healing the homeless. At that moment he felt “all there,” but in the years after he did other things in environments that discouraged his interest in the homeless. Eventually, he went into depression.
“He went to several retreats, and in one retreat using the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, he was made to ask himself when he felt closest to God.
Then he recalled that moment in the train station in India, when he felt he was ‘all there’ in himself, at that moment.
“He gave up everything in his life at that point and started a nonprofit corporation that helped the homeless. After two years his depression disappeared, and he went on to be one of the most recognized experts/authorities in helping the homeless in the US.
“David remembered his name. . . living in accord with the God-given meaning of his life . . . a way of being in the world that engages all his interior resources for giving and receiving love.”
Remembering our name, discovering our personal vocation.
Remember that moment—we’ve all had that moment—when with great clarity, it was “all there” and you knew what your life meant and what your mission is. Go back to that moment and nurture it in the present. It is such a moment that makes for fertile ground, where God’s seed in your life is to sprout and yield a harvest. It is that moment when we encounter God, and nothing else will matter.