My heart is restless until it rests in you alone.”
This age-old line from St. Augustine continues to touch the soul in its search of meaning and mission in life. This search, I used to think, was central and vibrant in the life of a young person.
In recent years, however, as I worked more with older people, teachers and principals, office people, people in their 60s and 70s, and even older—my oldest retreatant was 93—I came to understand that the search is a lifetime journey indeed.
This Sunday’s Gospel on the bread of life gives us a framework of this search for meaning and mission in one’s life. It shows different levels of our search.
There is the search for things that satisfy us, maybe physically or materially, “. . . you are looking for me . . . because you ate the loaves and were filled.”
There is the search for meaning and mission, but meaning and mission on which we impose our terms and conditions—“What sign can you do, that we may see and believe in you?”
The deepest level of this search is for the meaning and mission of our life that is God-given. It is in this meaning and mission where we see God himself.
“In him alone” do we find the most authentic and deepest meaning and mission of our life. “I am the bread of life . . .”
Work for pay is a human necessity, but when imbued with concern for others, work becomes meaningful.
Last year there was a beautiful Nescafe ad that captured this meaning that comes with work. The ad showed ordinary people in ordinary jobs and the line was—“Para kanino ka bumabangon?” (For whom do you get out of bed in the morning?)
This is the natural transition from work for pay to work with meaning. For whom do we get out of bed in the morning?
It is the transition from necessity to meaning.
Beyond meaning, there is mission. We can do very meaningful work, but not necessarily live out our mission. This is the difficult distinction we constantly need to make. It is not easy.
Meaning can come from different sources. Our work has meaning because it helps others. It does a lot of good.
Meaning can come from a sense of personal fulfillment.
Meaning can range from a sense of personal achievement to a sublime or altruistic level.
Mission, however, is so much more than meaning. It is a calling, a vocation. We are all called and we are sent.
Mission is to be sent. Thus, someone sends and there is a purpose for being sent, a mission order, so to speak.
We defined mission in previous articles. From Frederick Buechner: “The place where God calls (or sends) you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” Mission is always the voice of God.
Almost 10 years ago, I met with a young man who was deciding whether he would play with the Ateneo de Manila basketball team or another university. That year, he was the top recruit.
Being a good student, he, with his parents, had looked at the courses he was considering in the two universities and found both okay.
It was a difficult choice. When I met with him, the first thing I said was that at the end of the day what was important was his knowing what God wanted him to do, what is God’s mission for him. Eventually, he decided to join Ateneo.
Years later, he asked to see me. I was no longer with Ateneo. He was again deciding if he should continue to play after graduation or move on.
When we sat down, the first thing he said was, “Father, to this day I am still asking the question you posed to me when we first met, ‘What is God’s mission for me?’”
Then he discussed the pros and cons of the choice before him.
He decided to play. On his last playing year, the Ateneo basketball team won its first of four—hopefully five soon—championships in the UAAP.
Every time he was processing a major decision, he’d always go back to the question of what is God’s mission for him.
After UAAP, he joined the bigger leagues and has been very visible in other fields as well. He is a role model and most certainly a celebrity in a category very few are in.
Recently, we had another of our spiritual conversations. The question remains—what is God’s mission for him?
However, the conversation, this time, was different. Now he had an answer with the certainty of faith. He knew this was the mission God wanted him to do.
We discussed how he was to deliver his message. He articulated his story. The story of his journey was after high school he thought he would not get into the UAAP, much less be a “star” in the UAAP. He did become one of its biggest stars.
In deciding to play after graduation, he was not sure if it would have an impact. He was crucial to Ateneo’s campaign for championship. He led the team.
After this he thought his basketball days were over, but he moved on to the national team and again made an impact.
As he narrated his story, it dawned on us that this was his mission. It was to deliver the message to young people, especially those from the less privileged classes, that they can make someone out of themselves.
His message is his story. He wanted young people to see that, like him, who at different stages in his journey, doubted if, like him, they, too, could make it. He wanted to tell the less privileged youth through basketball that “yes, they can!” if they will work hard for and be disciplined in pursuing their goals.
Here is a young man who for the past decade has been “restless.” The question remained—what is God’s mission for him? He now answers this.
Though he is a confident and deliberate young man, I have never seen him so sure of himself. He always had a calm, steady and positive presence, yet I have never seen him so at peace, and even with a glow of spirit in his aura.
He had found and embraced his meaning and mission.
He had his fill of the earthly bread, so to speak. Got a good education. Won a UAAP championship. He is a celebrity in his own right. I am sure he earns well. He is a role model to the youth. You would think this is much more than a meaningful life.
But then again, the bread of life the Lord talks about promises we will no long hunger or thirst.
Fr. Catalino G. Arevalo, SJ, once referred to the Eucharist, the bread of life, as “the bread of the dream”; the bread of the dream, God’s dream. It is God’s dream for us to be His beloved sons and daughters by our sharing in Christ’s mission. It is His dream for us that we live a life of meaning and mission; to be His beloved sons and daughters in whom He is well-pleased.
All of us search for meaning and mission. We ask, at one point in our life and perhaps continue to ask at different points, what is God’s mission for me? Our heart and soul will be restless until it rests in answering this question, in the God-given mission we will discover.
We must listen for the answer. We must listen to our life within us, as Parker Palmer would say. We must listen to our story. We must listen to our deep desires and discover in these our deep gladness.
Knowing this, we must listen to the deep hungers of the world that our deep gladness can respond to. This is where God sends us. This meeting point between our deep gladness and a deep hunger of our world is where we are to live out our mission.