I live in a Florida retirement community...a very large one. And, like me, most of our parishioners are also retired. Demographically, then, our parishioners are older and relatively affluent. Anyway, this past Sunday, as I was chatting with a parishioner after Mass, he said something symptomatic of what I believe to be today's most common spiritual error. He claimed that retirement had been very difficult for him. He'd had an "important executive position with a major corporation" and it was hard for him to adjust to doing "almost nothing."
I asked if he'd spent any time thinking deeply about this apparent problem of his, and if so, had he drawn any conclusions. He replied that he didn't need to think about it; the problem was clear: "I used to be important, but now I'm not. I used to do important things but now I don't." He then added, "It's OK. I'll get used to it."
Now the usual response to such comments is to encourage the person to volunteer one or two days a week...you know, "Get involved in parish ministry! Become and usher, a catechist, a minister to the sick. Help out at the soup kitchen or the food pantry or hospice...but do something! Channel all that unused energy into something that will help you and help others."
This certainly isn't bad advice, but it really doesn't address the core problem. Although these ministries and volunteer activities are valuable, I can assure you that, at least in the mind of this parishioner, they will never match the importance of his pre-retirement job. They will always pale in comparison.
The reason is simple; and it relates to that most common spiritual error I alluded to above. This is the error of believing that our work -- and by this I mean our human work -- defines us, that the things we do to earn a living here on earth are the most important things we do.
How common is it? So common that it's a real challenge to find someone who doesn't believe it. And, sadly, this includes most Christians. Do you want proof? Just ask a parent, any parent, about his hopes for his children. The answer will likely relate to their worldly happiness and success: that they'll do well in school, or get into a good college, or marry "well", or enter a prestigious profession, or achieve fame, or simply make lots of money. The problem with centering one's life on such hopes is that, even in their realization, they never satisfy the deepest longings of the human heart. And as my parishioner friend has discovered in his retirement discontent, at some point worldly achievements become nothing more than memories. But more importantly, a life focused on worldly success cannot focus on its true end, the end for which that life was created. Man cannot serve two masters.
God didn't create us to achieve worldly success in this short earthly existence; he created us for a life of eternal happiness with Him. This doesn't mean we shouldn't enjoy this life. On the contrary. Life is meant to be savored and enjoyed in all its diverse abundance. Because life is good! Being is good!
This was brought home to me some years ago while attending a reception aimed at establishing ties between a Catholic college and the local business community. As I mingled self-consciously, I overheard a professor of English ask a nearby businessman, "And what do you do?" Without a moment's hesitation, the businessman replied, "I enjoy being." What a marvelous answer! I only wish I had heard the professor's response. But based on those three words, I suspect that if I had asked that businessman to relate his hopes for his children, he would have answered, "My hope for my children is that they get to heaven."
And so, that's what I'll be writing about...enjoying the gift of being (except when I write about something else) and helping God help us achieve salvation.