Now, after all these years, it is time for you to go out and take your place in the world, and though this is what we have been moving toward all these years, it is still difficult. There is much your mother and I would like to say, perhaps some of which you have heard before.
You may think that we have restricted you too much as you were growing up, having tried our best to protect you, but the world can be a cruel place. Forgive us for that and understand, only out of our love have we acted in these ways. You may not wish to hear what we have to share, as you are forming your own judgments now and think you have little need for advice, but I pray that you will read this letter and take it to heart.
Yes, it's natural that you might wish to impulsively reject all that our generation held dear, because, to you, our ways are "the old ways." It is up to your generation to retain the good and wise, and leave the bad behind. Members of each new generation think: "we know so much better than those who are old," but we who are old now, know that some of what we once rejected in the previous generation was actually good and wise.
We know that our elders also learned the same hard and often painful lessons gained from life, for man's nature does not change and is the same today as it ever was throughout history.1
Whether we see this for ourselves or recognize today's "human being" in the descriptions given by Shakespeare 400 years ago, in the Odyssey and Illiad of Homer about 2700+ years ago, or in the holy scriptures, man's nature, ... my nature and your nature, has not changed. Writings from thousands of years ago mention the buying and selling of goods, questions of government, the law, war and peace, morality, or even how young men "stand on the corner" combing their hair, looking at the young women, and how women flirt with the men. Things change, technology changes, but man's basic nature does not.
Each new generation has to confront the unique social and political realities that the previous generations have left behind, both the good and wonderful, as well as the bad and the truly terrible. You also will have to meet the challenges found in the harsh realities of this world, for this world will come to you whether you seek it out or not.
Like so many men and women who have lived before you, you also want to find happiness, to do good, to "make something of yourself," and you intend to make things even better than they ever were before. This is your time! Make the most of the opportunities that open up before you within the time you have here on this Earth. For us, time has passed so swiftly, and though it seems absurd to you now, before you know it, a lifetime can pass by.
You may understand that we were young long ago, but it may be quite a while before you see the real significance of it all in your own life. You find it hard to believe looking at us now, but once we, too, really were young, glorying in the strength of our youth. We stood here on this Earth, exhilarating in the newness of this beautiful world all around. ... just like you!
In my own case, a time came when I left the shelter of my family and went out into the world ... to learn and live in the world. Yes, what wonderful things we can see and know: new experiences and discoveries, new adventures, new friends, and the acquisition of knowledge and skill. Each generation can, and often does, build upon the shoulders of the previous generation that has left behind so much scientific, technological and social achievement.
That you wish to serve others shows God is leading you in the way of goodness, but remember it is He whom you ultimately serve. If you please Him, you will be more than pleased. You will be blessed!
Diligently seek out the words of the dear Lord. Think about their meaning. With the constantly changing tides of life, little can be relied upon here, but you can build your life upon the Rock and be sure (Matthew 7:21-27).
Some ask why I say, "the dear Lord?" It's not a phrase I grew up with. It is reality to me. Can there be anyone dearer and more precious than the living God, the almighty One who created heaven and Earth and all that is? Can there be anyone dearer than He who gives us life eternal out of His unfathomable love, when we neither deserve it nor could imagine it on our own? When you have been touched by Him, you will know there is no one dearer, for
"... this is the testimony:
God has given us eternal life,
and this life is in his Son.
Whoever has the Son has life;
whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life."
- 1 John 5:11-12
Seek life, affirm life, protect life. Reach out and accept the living water that can quench your thirst forever, and you will find what you seek (John 7:37-39).
But being man, man or woman, we make our own plans and sometimes believe we can completely control our own destiny. We try to be wise, and too often think ourselves wise in our decision-making. Yet, our own well-considered choices do not completely determine the course of our lives, and in the end, those choices may turn out to not be right at all for us!
You will see, and have already begun to see, that forces beyond our control often intervene and move us in directions we never would have imagined and often have not welcomed! Our plans may not turn out as we expected. Others may not cooperate, and some may close "doors of opportunity" that we hoped would be open.
There also are so many competing messages urging us to go to the left or the right, when we need to keep moving straight ahead. If we submit, we succumb to the common dangers that await all of man (Matthew 7:13-14). We become lost like a ship at sea that has been blown off course, and only through God's grace can we find our way again. Sometimes, we simply choose the wrong course and only later realize we have ended up where we didn't wish to be at all.
Seemingly sweet "siren songs"2 will tempt any man and bring him to ruin on the "reefs" of life. Some objects of desire appear so attractive that we go willingly to our ruin, and even when we see the danger before us, they are sometimes still difficult to resist. Don't think it is easy to avoid these or arrogantly believe that you are uniquely stronger than all others who have come before you and been misled!
How will you know which way to go or what to do? If you think you will get there merely by following your desires, you will be bitterly disappointed. We have all been mistaken at times. This is our human condition, but we can heed the warnings of the wise and avoid those reefs! Gain wisdom (Proverbs 16:16)!
Without a compass to guide you in your journey, and without taking precautions to avoid the dangers that will block your way forward, you will become lost at times. You will need some light to see where you are heading when the darkness has fallen all around you, and in the world of men, there is much darkness and confusion.
A captain of a ship sailing into unknown territory without a compass and a map, or global-positioning system, quickly becomes lost. A man sailing through life who does not heed the advice of those who can guide him will also lose his way, and even more, there are many that would harm you. Like huge waves crashing upon your ship's deck during a storm, there are many that would lead you astray. You may find this difficult to accept, but it is true. Beware!
On the other hand, there are many experienced sailors on the sea of life who are ready to help you, at any step of your journey. Seek out and follow the counsel of those who have traveled this path before you, and you will know which way to sail and find your way to our heavenly Home.
Some will tell you that the world is an "illusion," that it is not "real." Yet, their denial of reality is a delusion. The truth is that every thing around us is real, but exists only for a while. Just as the grass and leaves of the trees are here one day and gone tomorrow, so are our lives on this Earth.
If we act as if all we see will last forever, we lose ourselves into the world and forget what is important in life. If we have discernment, recognizing the impermanence of all around us, we do not give undue priority to the things we may possess or control in this world. We will then recognize that so long as we live, our real purpose is to compassionately help those in need and to love the dear Lord.
Yes, mountains that seemingly last forever will one day be worn down into sand. Powerful rivers have dried up, and centuries ago, earthquakes have plunged even once great cities like Cleopatra's Alexandria in Egypt into the sea. Those things that have happened before will happen again, and we should not be surprised when they do. All that exists in this world changes, and those lives we know now will end one day.
Even then, the nature of the world, the nature of man, and the nature of the almighty God3 who created them do not change. If it were not so, there could be no scientific enterprise and there would be no such thing as human nature. This is how we can understand that God's divine law and the natural moral law directing man's conduct apply today just as much as at any time in the past.
There are some who may ask, "what gives you and others the right to speak about these things?" I would respond by saying that I am merely a man, a human being who has lived a long time and experienced many things. I am a student of life who doesn't claim any authority of his own, but who has been blessed to have wonderful teachers and learned something from experience and his teachers. I am a father. Have I and other parents not the right, before our time comes, to share with our children or any others that which our teachers have given us?
If there is anything truly of worth here, it is to the credit of the dear Lord and my teachers, not mine! If what is expressed rings true, it is to the credit of truth itself. Nobody possesses truth of himself, and therefore, no credit is due to anyone here below.
Truth exists before all things, before any of us; we merely become aware of it through His grace. Truth reveals Himself to whom He will, however unworthy that one may be (John 14:6-26). That little one is duty-bound to share it with those entrusted into his care, as has been done for all of time. Yet, if there are errors, they are solely mine.
It is a remarkable sign of the degradation of our time that those who share traditional morality with others are relentlessly challenged and mocked today, while few demand "by what authority" the promoters of atheism, secular humanism or even socialism share their views and even impose their values and immorality! Some of them say that we can't actually know that the objective world is real, because we may be mistaken about what we perceive through our senses.4
Of course, we know that sometimes we have been mistaken. However, many of them make an illogical leap in their reasoning and conclude that since what we know of the world may sometimes be imperfect, all our knowledge of the world is untrustworthy and therefore, what we do "doesn't matter!"
They advise others, "as long as you want to do something and it feels right, then do it!" or "anything you do is acceptable!" They reject traditional standards of morality and the self-evident harmony and balance found throughout the natural order of life. We have only to look at modern society to see that following their advice has brought disorder and terrible suffering into the world and into the lives of those who live in this world.
We know that we are human beings, given the ability to think about things, to analyze, to reason, and so we are meant to know many things, including what is truly right and wrong. Though we must admit that sensory information is limited, through the application of our practical reason, we can reliably know much about this great and wonderful world.
This is the basis for all scientific inquiry and knowledge of the world. If sensory information were really completely defective and untrustworthy, then there would be no scientific process, no technological advancement, and no medical knowledge applicable to human beings throughout the world.
We were created with just the right sensory abilities to live and function in this world. Those who assert that we cannot know the reality of the world, cannot know what is absolutely right and wrong or even that there are no absolute principles of morality and ethics, will very quickly change their view about knowing right and wrong if their possessions are stolen, if someone lies to them, if they are beaten or worse, if they are mistreated in any way.
If someone approaches them in a menacing manner, they will experience fear like any others. Suddenly trusting the sensory information flooding into their awareness, they will scream, run, plea for help, or even fight and defend themselves against a very real threat if they are attacked. Through their own reactions to injustices touching their own lives, they will invalidate everything they try to tell you about sensory information being unreliable! They will immediately appeal to the standards of ethics and morality that all of us naturally know (the "natural moral law") and cry for "justice" to punish those who violated a moral code they had up till that time denied even existed!
This natural moral law is knowable and known to us through our practical experience and understanding of human nature and what is good or bad for all human beings in general because of the human nature that we all have in common.
This natural moral law exists, not for the purpose of imposing a "moralistic" weight upon us, nor to deprive any of us of the natural enjoyments in life, but is the way that actually honors and respects all of us, and brings us the true enjoyment of life we ultimately seek.
In any case, you must decide for yourself whether you believe the world is real, whether God is real, and whether the law of God and the natural moral law is real. If you do, then you must decide whether you will arrange your life according to this truth, or not. This choice is one that every man eventually makes. You will either choose to live in harmony with the real nature of this world and Nature's Creator, or strive against Nature and its Creator in your life.
Either something is or it is not.5 This is one of the most basic principles of logic; without it, there is nothing that can be sure, nothing that can reliably be known. If you accept that God, His law and the natural moral law do exist, how do your conscious choices and actions in life reflect that?
Will you believe the atheistic materialists, the secular humanists or socialists? ... and live with an irrational worldview that denies the reality of what you know about human nature? Or, will you acknowledge with humility the wondrous God who has created all that is, whose law governs the entire universe and who has given us a nature that perfectly fits us for this world? If you acknowledge Him, will you accept Him into your life?
If you believe those who promote materialism, naturalism, or Scientism (or dozens of other "isms"), then you will accept that biochemical processes inside our brain or body are completely responsible for everything you feel, think or perceive, that physical causes result in everything you experience, that genetics and environmental factors explain everything you are and know. Yes, it's true that some things are explained by these causes, but ask yourself: is everything explainable in this way?
If you believe that physical causes are completely responsible for everything you are and experience, you would also have to accept that free will, our consciousness and even our ability to reason, are all illusions created by a biochemical process. Do you will freely, choosing what you will or will not do, or are your choices completely pre-determined by conditioning and physical processes alone?
If you choose to believe that there is absolutely nothing beyond the physical, you need to ask yourself many questions and be intellectually honest enough to answer them:
Although there are many variations of materialist beliefs, if you take their basic beliefs seriously, you must conclude that everything you decide to do is determined by physical, environmental (also "physical") causes, as well as being a conditioned response to physical events. Taken to their logical end, you end up as a moral nihilist who prides himself in rejecting all religious and moral beliefs or standards, who believes that life has no ultimate meaning at all. Beliefs, principles and values concerning morality, ethics, God, soul, or love, and virtues such as honesty, loyalty, courage, honor, charity or faithfulness become completely meaningless. "Do your own thing!" they say.
Killing or harming others, i.e., those who are not yet born, the vulnerable elderly, ailing and disabled becomes merely a matter of societal or individual whim! ... or merely a matter of the self-interest of those who have power over the vulnerable.
Now we can understand how some see nothing wrong with abortion, assisted-suicide, euthanasia, eugenics or genetic manipulation of mankind. Now we can see why in many ways society appears to be degrading into anarchy and chaos. Nothing is considered "right or wrong," ... it's all "relative." No one is considered unexpendable. No life is sacred. No reverence for life exists in the mainstream society. Yet, postmodern skeptics and progressives see this as progress.
Those who are victimized when such ideas are put into practice suffer and cry out for justice. When their mother, father or other loved one is medically-killed by those who think it's just "fine," they experience terrible anguish and grief. These family survivors, whose loved ones have been taken from them by the cold, uncaring death-dealers, cannot accept it.
Our society is split between those who casually kill and those who treasure life, between the culture of death and the culture of life. The relativism and moral skepticism in our materialistic society result in casual killing and victimization. Having abandoned the divine and natural moral law, our society is degrading day by day. Respected medical leaders and professionals take part in the now institutionalized medical killings and have no shame, because they do not recognize any absolute moral law.
However, do you accept their beliefs? Does it make sense to you that, according to them, love and life ultimately have no meaning? Do their assertions (that there is no Creator and everything we observe in Nature arose completely by chance) make sense when we see all around us an infinitely complex and perfectly organized universe? Or, when we see how intelligently arranged is the DNA structure in every living being,? Or, how all the cells, tissues, organs and systems within our body function together to maintain life?
You know that if you dip your finger in a pool of water, it will make circular waves rippling outward, but then they will quickly fade away as if they had never existed. Similarly, everything you or I do in an entire lifetime will touch others around us and affect many people for good or for bad. We may be tempted to mistakenly question the meaning of our lives and ask, that compared with eternity, "what importance do our lives ultimately have, if there is no God, no Creator, no purpose for our even existing?"
Yes, eventually, our names will be forgotten in this world. Yes, what we have accomplished, experienced, thought, said, acquired, controlled or owned, ... all that we have been will be forgotten in this world. Yes, that we even existed will be forgotten one day in this world, but ... God knows what we are and what we do! Others know us, and they know what kind of person we are and what we do.
Ask yourself, "does the way others treat you matter in your life?" When others cared about you, loved you, and helped you, did it matter? Your life and how you live it matters! The dear Lord actually does know everything you do, think and feel, for He is God! He has shown us that in His book of life, everything you do, think or say is recorded forever, and it all matters (Revelation 3:4-5)!
According to King Solomon, everything man does "under the sun" is ultimately seen as meaningless, unless man has reverence for the dear Lord. (Ecclesiastes) We are meant to know the "one Shepherd" who is the source of all wisdom found in holy scripture. We are meant to acquire that wisdom and live and enjoy life according to the divine and natural moral law (Proverbs 3:13-26)! The meaning of our lives can only be found in relationship with the Giver of that life.
Using reason, and living with faith, we can make choices that are in harmony with the natural and divine law. We can engage in human actions that promote order and happiness in the lives of others as well as our own. Human actions are distinctly human, because we use our reason to consciously evaluate what actions lead to the good we seek, because we freely and voluntarily choose to do them, and because we will to, and actually, do them in order to achieve our true good.6
Though we may be mistaken about what actions will lead to our true happiness, our actions are guided by what we believe will lead to that happiness. Clearly, truly human actions are more than those instinctive activities we share in common with the animals, like eating, drinking, finding shelter (however simple or fancy), reproducing or teaching our young the basics of survival in this world.
Because we love you, we want you to find your true way and fulfill your potential. If you think about your own experience in life, you will know clearly that there really are some human actions that are absolutely wrong, and other human actions that are absolutely good. In other words, what we do does matter! And living consciously, using the unique gifts each of us have been given, we can fulfill our potential as human beings and live honorable lives.
If we live according to the law, we honor our Creator and fulfill the purpose of our lives. If we love our Creator, we will naturally honor Him by following the unchanging divine and natural moral law.
Encountering others everywhere we go, we have the opportunity to comfort others, to live lives that give testimony of our ongoing love for the dear Lord. Many seek to have their own suffering eliminated while ignoring the suffering of others. A true man or woman finds joy in serving others and lessening their suffering. He thinks little of his or her own, accepting the unavoidable suffering that necessarily comes to all who live in this world. This is sacrificial love, the way of life the dear Lord showed us, ... a way that opens our hearts to Him and to all.
Of course, for the young, talk of sacrifice and suffering is hard to accept. The young want to experience the world and enjoy it, and I was no different. I want to tell you, ... like you, I had many questions, yet marveled at the wondrous ways all things are put together. "What a wonderful world!" I thought. And like many of today's youth, like a bee tasting the flowers of the field, I tasted the sweetness of what this world has to offer: fruits and cream, sun and sandy beaches, blue waves along the shore, music, art and the ways of love.
Though I made too many mistakes and lost my way at times, in spite of all I was involved in, throughout my life, and even as a child, I felt myself pulled toward something, urged on to something, something I could not name and did not know. It was something that nobody named for me or told me about, as surprising as that may seem to you now. Every now and then I felt it.
I suppose, like all those who are young, I was in love with love and wanted so much to find it. One day, I found Him, or rather, He mercifully made Himself known to me, even as so terribly unworthy I was. After that day, I was never the same. I fell in love with the One who had been calling to me all along, comforting me in the anguish of my heart, filling me with joy ... my Beloved.
So young I was then. Just like you! You see all that is new now and think we who are old don't have any idea what life is all about, but you would be mistaken. I have been where you are now, and one day, you will be where I am now.
You see, through it all, His love has never left me, never in all these years. Who can speak of this or such things? Who can understand? Those who know, know, and those who don't, scoff and laugh, and question the sanity of those like me who have faith. Whatever we do know, is nothing before Him. He allows us a mere glimpse into His immensity to encourage and teach us, and to remind us that we are just man, and He is the almighty God! He is the Teacher who brings us into the light.
The all-important concerns of those all around me who had turned away from Him, who denied Him and didn't know Him, meant nothing to me. All they seemed to care about was the acquisition of wealth or power or status or knowledge, but not priceless wisdom! "You're throwing your life away!" they screamed at me.
Ignoring their protests, I left the dreary road, in a way, and wandered this world, searching for my Beloved again, here and there as I went along. I fled the loneliness of a way that left me cold and empty. I yearned for the warmth that recognized the miracle of life and the Creator of that life.
A free spirit some smiled at and most called a fool, all I cared about was my Lord. In each place I traveled, I caught glimpses of Him here and there, within and without, in the wonderful kindness of innumerable people I had met who, sharing His love, chose to be friends to me.
No words can describe the perfection of His beauty and splendor. Like a moth to a flame, I could never resist His sweetness, and there is nothing sweeter anywhere in the world.
Yes, I have seen the sun glistening on the highest snow-topped mountains, the lush valleys, roaring oceans and seas of this Earth. I have breathed in the sweet fragrance of the jasmine tree and heard the plaintive song of tropical birds calling from its branches. I have dipped my feet in sparkling mountain streams and looked upon great ocean waves, walked in lush forests, picked flowers in the freshness of love and traveled across desert lands. I have danced with friends in the pouring rains.
Yes, I have lived a life, and you will live your own. Everywhere I went, He was there!
I saw that at dawn and dusk, we are reminded by the stillness of all that moves on this Earth, how magically alive the world is! How present with us He is in this world! Haven't you noticed? In those moments, all the birds and animals pause to witness the magnificence of His majestic gift to us all. He paints the skies anew each day so that they sing His glory!
Haven't you seen this for a moment, some time? Haven't you felt His Spirit with you, too? Perhaps you couldn't name it, but felt it whispering in the breeze, through the trees, over the mountains, and across the fields that all literally sparkle with His glory?
Maybe you haven't thought of it this way, but this is what I see all around. When you're alone in Nature, what do the trees and mountains, rivers and seas whisper to your heart? Do you yearn to know that and experience it? We must realize: He has never left us, even though we have turned away. He will take us back to Him if we just return, if we want Him sincerely.
But the dear Lord doesn't "sell" entry into His kingdom cheaply! He accepts those who sincerely want Him and are willing to pay a great price. As the dear Lord Jesus told us:
"the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it." - Matthew 13:45-46
Most people hear that and think the lesson is only about how valuable the kingdom of heaven is, that we should be willing to give everything to enter it. But many do not consider that there can only be a kingdom if there is a king. Many do not consider that that regal and majestic King of kings will not allow us to enter in unless we actually and sincerely surrender our lives completely into His loving hands, giving everything we are for that pearl of great value.
Yes, we are all searching for that "finest of all pearls" in life. We look here and there, thinking we have found it. We become aware of some desirable thing, or even a person, and will that we acquire it, thinking this will finally make us happy. Yet, if we should acquire the object of our desire, after a while, we are disappointed and realize that what we imagined, was not entirely what we thought it would be.
We may strive to gain enjoyments, public status, power, wealth, beauty, and knowledge, but all will be lost one day. Desire is like a flame that can never be satisfied, even if we were to enjoy all there is in this world (Ecclesiastes 6:7). If we are wise, we realize that our ultimate happiness is not to be found in the things of this world, or in others, and we begin the search once more.
Even though you will have to see this for yourself, one day you will come to truly see that nothing in this world, of itself, will bring you true peace or satisfaction! You will come to understand how you truly and desperately need the dear Lord, and you will cast yourself at His feet without holding anything back at all. I can tell you that nothing is more important than finding Him. Whatever you do, there is nothing greater! When you find Him, you will find everything you've ever wanted in life.
Yes, watching me slowly walking along, or sitting here at the table, weak as I am now, you might never imagine, I have long been on a secret journey. But now you know. I was! ... and still am, so long as I breathe in this world. Just an old man, wrinkled and nearing the end ...., yet we all have an interior life, and whatever work we do in this world, that is where the secret journey unfolds!
4 Ralph McInerny, A First Glance At St. Thomas Aquinas, Chapter 4: Two Big Pictures, 1990, Univ of Notre Dame Press. Also, see the entire book in general for a helpful overview of the subjects covered in this article. [Back]