In the Presence of Purpose

Among my heroes are three: E.M. Forster, Thomas Merton, and Mother Angelica. I want to write like E.M. Forster, think like Thomas Merton, and build like Mother Angelica.

hqdefaultAs some of you may know, Mother Angelica passed away Easter Sunday. If you’re not familiar with who she is, just do a search on her name.

I remember in the 90’s finding her program and watching it often. Now, this was at the same time I was finding my own spiritual path, and making strides to become a monk. And even now I watch her shows again on youtube often. (Click here to see one of her shows).

Do I sadden on the passing of Mother Angelica? No. I thought she was a remarkable woman. I adored hearing her, watching her. She brought me a great sense of relief when my soul was confused. She was charismatic and fun. She was maternal and kind, but feisty and chiding. The dear woman had a long life of purpose.

You can learn a lot from a nun.

She made many a discussion on purpose. Her’s? To build a monastery in the Southern United States (no, not a grammatical error. I’m a Southern boy, I have to capitalize Southern). Her entire purpose was just to simply erect a place of monastic refuge and prayer in the middle of nowhere. And it grew to so much larger than that. It became a television station, a network (EWTN), a go-to for Catholics. And all because she set her purpose on doing something of benefit. For the homebound, let them find a way to have Mass, and never be disconnected from the Church.

I live a life a bit separate from my contemporaries. I understand that. I don’t go out in public often, and when I do, it’s quite early in the morning. But, in passing people I see far too many eyes glazed with self driven moments, self obsessed reactions to simple things. Anger has begun to erupt quickly in people.

It’s amazing what you see on the faces of people who are tired of looking at other people’s faces: vacancy, disregard, trouble, a dismissal of who they are, and transplanted with who they want to be, or rather, what they want, rather than what they give.

I was thinking about when someone tells you, “It’s my job, it’s not who I am.” Well, why not? Why aren’t you taking every moment to express who you are in a most important and positive way? Why shouldn’t you take every action of your day and express with gratitude who you are, and what you’re leaving the world?

I know why….because the world has expressed in recent days that the purpose of life is not what you give to the world, but what you can get from it instead.

I have to remark that the moment that happened was when boys stopped becoming men. When women decided virtue was outdated. When children and dependents were check-marked on an application to be no older than “26.” When people found it normal to pass one another staring down at their phones, rather than up at the clouds…..on their backs, in the grass in spring, holding hands, saying nothing, observing the world as it turned….and sighing at how beautiful it all is.

This turn towards “take” took its place when no one was responsible for anything any more. Not even their own purpose. This turn towards “take” took hold when we forgot that purpose was not needing something, but giving something.

All our great technical, medical, and even spiritual advancements as people came from minds who wanted to give something to the world to make it better, easier. And somehow that all seeped to drip into a slow slap of extinction with the advent of the duck-lipped selfie, and the ill tempered Yelp review.

“I need to say something,” is a manner of saying, “I have a purpose. I matter. I exist.”

(A wise man once said, “Say nothing.”)

Purpose isn’t something you’ve said, it’s what you’ve done. How you reacted and behaved in moments NOT to be of your liking. I didn’t like that polio disease, so I’m going to do what I can to get rid of it. I don’t care for this homeless problem, so I’m going to do something about it. Cancer is a horrid sickness, and I want to make sure I put my efforts and energy into it.

And we all benefit from purpose.  We are all much better in the presence of purpose.

When I was at the monastery I noticed that most of the monks would pass in their 80’s and 90’s. And the ones that were still alive had the presence of something beautiful and youthful on their face. It was joyous. Spectacular. And most seemed as young as I (at that time in my 20’s). For years and years I have tried to precisely specify what that was. It was only recently that I realized it was purpose. 

You can learn a lot from a monk.

Every action that they made, every step they took, every interaction they encountered was met with a single idea: beneficial purpose. And let’s not forget that all of these things are done selflessly. Useless to us. But, of benefit to others. And being in the presence of purpose is to be in your own, being mindful of what benefit you offer, what goodness you leave in your tread, what smiles you leave in memory, what exalting, laughing joy you leave in memory.

If my moments are catalogued in life for all the world to see, to enjoy, to experience with me, then I’d rather them be of purpose…

(and this is where Phillip and I discussed ending this piece with the line, “Quit bitching on the internet and do something useful with your life!”)

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  1. Hence the expression: It’s better to give than to receive. Gregory, I think the more you write the more you improve. I always look forward to your articles. This one is really exceptional. Thank-you.

  2. No, I hadn’t heard that Mother Angelica had passed, it’s sad for us here without her. I loved watching Mother Angelica Live, she sure didn’t beat around the bush, did she?!? I have to agree that purpose IS important, and giving of yourself to others is the best way to help yourself, if inadvertently. Thanks for your post!

  3. For everyone who talks about empowerment of women, no one has mentioned that Mother Angelica started a cable TV station. It’s still successful – EWTN. She was a true pioneer of a new medium, as well as a woman and a nun to boot.
    I’m sure that she is smiling at you for all of the good works that you do. Forster and Merton: you definitely channel them when you write.
    God bless!

  4. You hit the nail on the head again. Our society as a whole has become self centered and selfish. It pains me from day to day to see what goes on. I have had to stop watching the news and stop reading the news because I become so discouraged with what I see in the world these days. We have gone in from raising children to be responsible adults that help their fellow man and work hard for what they get to a bunch of people who are self centered, selfish, lazy and have an overwhelming sense of entitlement and a mentality that nothing is every their fault it is always someone else’s fault. Makes me sick. My job is who I am. I help people, I put a smile on their face even though they don’t want to be in my office and I make them feel like someone cares even though I’m just the front office girl. I have patients that call to wish me happy whatever holiday it is because they know that I appreciate it and I enjoy talking to them. Wish more people would get out of their “me” box and throw it away.


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