Saint Ignatius High School

The Point of it All

Why are we here? What is the purpose of life? For the past 25 years, Jim Brennan has asked his theology classes these thought-provoking questions. Read this week's blog to see what Jim's students have to say about the true meaning of life.

The Point of it All

In the film adaptation of the play, The Sound of Music, the main character, the governess Fraulein Maria (re)introduces her charges to the beauty of music. “Let’s start at the very beginning…a very good place to start…” she intones as she teaches the children how to sing. The beginning is, indeed, “a very good place to start.”

Classes resumed last week as we began a new semester under the Tower. Theology, unlike most of the other disciplines at Saint Ignatius, runs on a semester schedule, meaning new courses, new schedules, and new students. But as I begin the Sacraments course for year 25, one thing remains the same–not only for this class, but for all the courses I teach–the first lesson.

As I have for the past two and a half decades, this week I asked the boys to start at the beginning; to answer the fundamental questions “Why are we here?” and “What is the purpose of life?” These are age-old queries…the ones which enabled (and required) the establishment of the disciplines of philosophy and theology. As one would expect from our Wildcat juniors, the responses were impressive: running the spectrum from “Being happy” to “Having faith in God.”  We talked about those responses and I was able to watch the students defend their positions as well as see some of them modify theirs as they were confronted with superior logic. Being a part of such discussions is among the things that make being a teacher at Saint Ignatius the best job one can have and convince me that our future is in good hands.

Inevitably the boys ask me my thoughts on the question and my response is simple and profound: signaling at once that it did not originate with me. The purpose of our lives is to love and be loved by God and others.

That’s it: we are made in love, by love, and for love. Writing of the love of God in the “First Principle and Foundation” of his Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius put it this way:

Man [humanity] is created to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord. All other things on the face of the earth are created for him to help him in the attainment of the end for which he is created.

Jesus Himself was even more inclusive as He literally commanded us to “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind…[and to] love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22: 37-39). 

Everything else serves that purpose: work, prayer, even our leisure. None of this is to say that the other things aren’t important–they are–but if they don’t serve the end of loving, we need to re-evaluate them in our lives.

On the surface this seems self-evident: love is a powerful force in our lives. But what exactly is this love of God and humanity to which Jesus and Ignatius call us? Former students of the great Michael Pennock ‘64 will remember with a smile how he described the different things and people he loved in his life. In essence, he taught us that we love our friends differently from the way we love our family members; and we love our spouses in a different way in turn. C.S. Lewis, in his brilliant The Four Loves, pointed out to his readers that the Greeks had at least four different words to describe the way we love with the most profound being what they called agape.  Knowing it by its Latin translation, caritas, St Thomas Aquinas spoke of this love as “willing the good of the other.”  Note that for Thomas there is no mention of feelings.  This is not about being “completed,” or sunsets, or warm feelings. That is the essence of “liking.” Agape, the type of love to which Jesus referred in Matthew’s Gospel, and the love referred to here, is about willing, acting. 

It is about selflessly giving ourselves away to others.

Agape is the love we show in forgiving those who have hurt us, especially those whose actions–or inaction–have profoundly affected our lives for the worse. It is the love of stopping at the scene of an accident to offer help, especially when we don’t have time. It is the love our young Wildcats show in building friendships with those on the streets. It is the love of showing up at Mass on Sundays even though we may not feel “spiritually fulfilled” by the experience.  And it is the love which enables us to see past cultural, physical, racial, and even political differences to peer into the heart of the person different from ourselves.

This is the love we give to others and it is the love we need to accept in turn.  None of us makes it through this life alone.  We were made to be in relationship with others, as the opening chapters of Scripture make clear when God gives the man a partner because “it [was] not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 1:18).

That we were made to love–and be loved–in this way is confirmed by the fact that we never feel better, more fulfilled, or more at peace as when we embrace the spirituality of inconvenience and give ourselves to others.  

Because loving is the reason why we are here: it’s the point of it all.

A.M.D.G. / B.V.M.H.