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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Finding Purpose and Setting the World on Fire...

Setting the world on fire...
St. Catherine of Siena once said, "If you are who God meant you to be, you will set the world on fire."

It was the quote used by the Bishop of London during his sermon at Prince William and Catherine's royal wedding.

For many of us, trying to figure out who we are meant to be can take a lifetime; a lifelong search for purpose.

I remember a time in the early stages of my life, when I thought my purpose was to be a cowboy, before the Ed Bruce song advised moms against it, and after thinking I wanted to be a trapeze artist, inspired by Burt Lancaster and Tony Curtis in the movie, Trapeze. Somewhere between cowboy and my illusions of grandeur on a high wire, I also considered the priesthood.  Talk about confusion!

Then, later in my childhood, I thought my purpose was to play professional baseball, only to realize, when I got to high school, that I wasn't going to be setting the world on fire in that role, which coincided with my short endeavor into acting in Mrs. Jones' drama class (which by the way, inspired my younger brother to become an actor, which became what he was meant to be.  He's been acting professionally since 1995!).

Playing Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple, was a revelation.  The attention and undeserved accolades I got in the hallways was like the hypnotizing visible smell of cheese that got Jerry into trouble with Tom in the TV show I would put on in the background, as I napped, after getting home from school before baseball games.  It was only reaffirmed with my roles as Bert Jefferson in The Man Who Came to Dinner, the Chief in Get Smart, Jonathan Harker in Dracula and Earthquake McGoon in Li'l Abner, our end-of-year musical.

So, I decided to combine the best of both worlds (my love of baseball and love for the attention of acting) and become a sportscaster! It changed to newscaster by the time I got to college, fearing that, as a sportscaster, I would get labeled as an ex-jock who failed at making it as a player (which was true but why admit it?).

Thus started my career as a news reporter, with hopes of becoming a network news anchor someday. It soon evolved into newsroom editorial management and I have been working in various editorial roles in television news ever since.

Yet, I realize, as my priorities changed with time, that my true vocation and who I am meant to be is beyond whatever I can ever achieve professionally.

Some people identify themselves by what they do in life or what they want to be and, if they stop doing it, or their goals are frustrated, sometimes due to circumstances beyond their control, they feel empty, depressed, resentful or, even, worthless.

Thomas Merton once wrote, "We are so obsessed with doing that we have no time and no imagination left for being.  As a result, men are valued not for what they are but for what they do or what they have - for their usefulness."

It's the reason some men, and lately more and more women, have midlife crisis.  They reach a point in their life when they haven't accomplished what they set out to do and so, they try to fill the void in their souls with material things or by having intimate relationships outside of marriage.

Some even try to go back in time by having their hair dyed, wearing an earring (men) or getting a tattoo.  It never works.  Aside from looking as ridiculous, and met with as much enthusiasm from friends and loved ones, as Frank Ricard (Will Ferrell's character) streaking down the middle of town in Old School, the emptiness continues; the hole doesn't diminish.

Moreover, what we are is often not who we are or are meant to be.  I remember a friend once telling me that he had achieved everything he wanted in life; he had a very successful career, a beautiful wife, healthy kids, a waterfront property with an infinity pool and 35-foot boat on a dock in the back. Yet, one evening, as he sat in his backyard smoking a cigar and drinking a scotch, overlooking the pool, lake and boat, as the sun was setting, he asked himself, "Is this all there is?"

You see, despite popular opinion, our purpose is never what we do, how many toys we have in the end, how much power, vainglory or sexual partners we have had.  As the old saying goes, we came into this world naked and naked we will leave it!

Finding true joy, fulfillment and peace surpasses all the empty promises.  It comes down to love; feeling loved and loving others; getting outside ourselves, and the never-ending search for happiness in our heads, and serving others.

St. Teresa of Calcutta (aka Mother Teresa) once said, "The fruit of silence is prayer.  The fruit of prayer is faith.  The fruit of faith is love.  The fruit of love is service.  The fruit of service is peace."

It's like the first line of Rick Warren's best selling book, The Purpose Driven Life, which states, "It's not about you."

Of course, in the self-absorbed culture we live in today, where selfies have become a validation of the happy and fulfilled lives people want us to see, and where we are constantly told to look-out-for-number-one and that we control our own destiny, if we think right, eat right, live right and look right, Warren's line may sound as foreign to some as the second line of Manfred Mann's Blinded by the Light.  (I've had this ongoing argument with my family.  Doesn't he say, "wrapped up like a douche in the middle of the night?")

In any case, I am not defined by what I do but who I am, as St. Catherine stated.  And, who I am is not the cowboy, trapeze artist, baseball player or TV star that I wanted to be or my profession as a television news managing editor, but a child of God. We are all children of God.  And, if children, as St. Paul points out, then heirs.

As heirs, therefore, our purpose is to lift up the Kingdom of God by serving others; reflecting Christ's love in this world and, in our own small way, setting a spark that spreads into raging flames and draws people to the consuming fire of God's love, which is the only place anyone can find real happiness.

Then we can say, as Jesus once did, "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled!" (Luke 12:49)...

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