Your Life is No Longer Your Own
May 20, 2020
One of the exhilarating yet terrifying aspects of a life lived in dedication to the things of God is that one never quite knows where one will end up from year to year. For instance, if someone had told me while I was still an undergraduate philosophy student at St. Jerome’s University in Ontario, Canada, that I would: study in Rome at the Angelicum; return to Canada and get married the following year; pursue my Masters and Doctorate at the University of Toronto; teach as an adjunct at both St. Jerome’s University and Niagara University; move to America to teach philosophy at DeSales University; experience all manner of moving adventures and tenancies; live again in Rome for four months as part of DeSales’ Study Abroad Program; and now act as President of St. Bernard’s – I surely would have disbelieved him. Clearly, there is much I have left out here. I have not recounted, for example, the far more interesting life of my wife who emigrated from Scotland to Canada (first into the inner city of Hamilton, then out into the lonely country, and then back again to the city), left Canada to work with an order of Coptic nuns in Egypt, and after several years returned to Canada, married yours truly, and descended with him into the bowels of America. Nor have I recounted the days of my youth (a story never to be told!). Nevertheless, the stage is set for this piece’s simple and rather common point: when we commit our lives to God, our lives no longer belong to us. For they have been put at the service of our Lord to dispose of as He sees fit.
In this regard, I often think of that very touching scene between Peter and Jesus by the Sea of Tiberius after His resurrection (John 21:15-19):
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” (Jesus) said to him, “Feed my sheep. Amen, amen, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to dress yourself and go where you wanted; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” He said this signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when he had said this, he said to him, “Follow me.”
This prophecy, directed to Peter, applies in like manner to all who love the Lord, to those who love Him above all others, have placed their lives in His hands and are ready to take up His burden and His cross. Personally speaking, although my wife and I have left our country, home, family and friends in response to God’s call (something made ever more poignant when we celebrated the Christmas season alone in our home in Allentown, PA and now in Macedon, NY), we do not consider our situation and story to be extraordinary. We tell it in much the same spirit that St. Augustine relates his early life in his Confessions, namely, that it might give testimony to the work of God in our lives as Christians, and offer clues, perhaps, to the anatomy of Christian conversion and of living in the world.
If our lives are any indication of the character of the Christian journey, you can expect in your walk, especially as you discern your vocations, to be led where you do not want to go. You can expect no longer to do the things you used to do, to enjoy the things of your former days, or even to dress as you once did. You can expect to be called out of the familiar, and maybe even out of your own country, much as Abraham had been, and drawn into something unknown to you but has nonetheless been promised to and prepared for you. You can expect to be asked to become gift to others in what you say and in what you do. Your light, so beautifully kindled within you and admired longingly by you over the years will no longer be for you alone, will no longer be kept under a bushel but will be asked to shine for all to see. You need not worry about what you will say; our Lord will give you His words at that time. All that you will need will be given to you, and even some of what you want will be granted: “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6:38) You will never suffer the want, decay and abandonment that afflicts the irreligious, but will always be full, experiencing that joy particular to the Christian that begins here and now, but awaits its consummation in the life to come.
Do not be dismayed, then, when your vocation requires that you be far from your home, family and friends. Remember, you are called to leave all of these so that you might labor in the fields to which God has led and entrusted to you. When you begin to serve others in the ways in which you have been blessed, do not despair over how few will attend to and act upon the Word for which you have sacrificed your entire life. Remember, you do not see the whole, nor do you see the full effect your words, actions, and life will have upon those whom you serve; it is not for you to harvest every seed that you plant. You have reaped where you have not sown, particularly in all that you have received from your parents, friends, society, Church, and schools. Rejoice, then, as you take up your authentic and mature position within the Kingdom of God. When it comes to taking up disciplines imposed upon you by your work or state of life, do not complain that they are hard, unfamiliar, unexciting, or not what you had thought they would be. Remember that the path our Lord sets for you is rarely what you thought it would be. Take comfort in the fact that every Christian who has gone before you has experienced these things and has felt as you do. We have all been asked to abandon the familiar and have been led into countries unknown to us and not to our liking. But we trust in the promise that has been made to us, and in this spirit we seek for fruits of which we stand in such need. Despair and disobedience are simply not options that are available to us. Rather, we must go forth in hope and obedience with the knowledge that we shall find that for which we seek, and will spend our lives in ways most becoming to the love that defines us as Christians.
And so, as I sit here in my office alone during this time of quarantine, I contemplate that fact that I have always lived my life not knowing where I will be next year. I have never set down roots, as the saying goes. For although I am in this world, I am not of it, and I find myself ever ready to shake the dust off my feet, take up my staff, don my cloak, and travel down the road to the next place to which God calls. There is but one land that I seek, one place that I call home, one Lord for whom I am ready to pour out all that I am in imitation of what He has done for me. My prayer is that you continue in this way. For in this is found the only life worth living.
Dr. Stephen J. Loughlin is President and Professor of Philosophy at St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry in Rochester, NY. Dr. Loughlin earned his Master's and Doctorate in Philosophy at the University of Toronto. Before coming to St. Bernard’s almost two years ago, Dr. Loughlin was an Associate Professor of Philosophy and the Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at DeSales University in Center Valley, PA., a position he held for almost 20 years. Dr. Loughlin’s academic work has appeared in The Thomist, Nova et Vetera, Pro Ecclesia, and Josephinum, and his areas of research interest include Medieval philosophy, and Thomistic anthropology. Dr. Loughlin deeply loves teaching, having engaged in the profession for 25 years. Dr. Loughlin has been married for the past 30 years to his lovely wife Carol who just recently retired as a NICU nurse.