In another place, our Lord also tells the story of a man who had been possessed by a demon, but the demon had been expelled from this man and sent away. While he was away, the demon scoured the countryside, finding more demons who joined him. One day, this demon saw the man walking in a field, and finding this man’s heart still empty, the demon entered him again with the many other demons that he had gathered with him. And so the man, having once been possessed by a single demon, was now worse than he had been before.
Live with an avowed purpose. Every one of us gives our life over to something. This is part of our human nature. It is unavoidable, as though there is something inside us and a part of our soul that is empty and incomplete without some “other” to fill that void—like the poor man who was once possessed by a single demon and was freed, but then the demon returned to find this man’s house empty, cleaned and prepared for something more. There is a part of us that yearns, without satisfaction, for something other than ourselves and it will neither be quenched, nor tamed without something to direct our energies and passions toward. The question is not whether we have an avowed purpose in life, as much as it is: What is our avowed purpose? Whether to our children, to a spouse, an alma-mater, a career, a local sports team, a fashionable celebrity, a political party, a favorite hobby, the pursuit of financial security, personal health, an author, an ideology, a particular field of learning, to our friends or family, a social cause or a particular service, there are purposes that are good for the soul and others that are harmful—it does not take much for one to see that the rewards for giving one’s life to sacrifice for their children are much different from a life devoted to attaining personal wealth.
In this day and age of affluence and leisure time, we have to be all the more careful and vigilant in what we choose to devote our time and energy toward, in what we pursue as a purpose in life. Most of us will know at least one person who has given their life over to following a sports team, or to a particular musical group, or who follows every moment of a celebrity’s life, or owns everything possible that is related to a favorite television show or movie. This has become their purpose, it is the standard and priority which motivates their actions, sometimes their relationships and radiates decisions about all other things. We can do the same with careers, with hobbies and even with the pursuit pleasure itself, that the purpose for many has become to seek relaxation, joy and entertainment; that decisions about finding a job are based on what is enjoyable; choices about what to eat are based on what is tasty rather than what is healthy; the morality of things is based on what feels good, or makes a person happy, instead of what leads us to become better people. And so we can see that whatever purpose we have given our life to is the direction that our life moves toward and we take on the qualities, the attitudes and the personality of whatever it is we are pursuing.
Some avowed purposes may seem to be good: to devote one’s life to becoming a doctor; for a parent to sacrifice everything for the good of their children; to set immediate gratification aside and plan one’s career around building a good and secure retirement. These things are good, but are they the ultimate good? Are they the final purpose and reason that can truly fulfill one’s life? Can any one of them bring salvation to the soul or be the dependable faith that provides in our times of need? What happens after you have been a doctor for 25 years and can no longer perform surgeries? Or when your children have grown, begun their own careers and started having children of their own? Or when you have retired and are looking for something to fill your days? Even though these things are good, we know that there is something more.
There is but one True Good and One Truly Fulfilling thing in this life. There is One Purpose which does not fail and which leads us to the good in all things. There is One to whom it is most worthwhile to give all that we possess and all that we are. There is One who truly loves us, seeks out our good and possesses the Wisdom to plan each moment of our life. There is One for whom it was good for the rich man to give all things. Must assuredly, if he obeyed the law of Moses and followed the teachings of Christ, all that belonged to him would be used for good things, but after being told to sell everything he owned, he was told to return. It was only after he returned to follow Christ that he would inherit the Kingdom. There is the one Way, one Purpose and One Lord to whom it is beneficial to promise our allegiance to. If we are to give ourselves to this One then we do not loose all of the things that we love, but gain the Kingdom itself.
Some have said and feared that to love God and to give ourselves utterly and completely to Him interferes with and takes away from our ability to love others and to experience the good things of this life. Yet the saints have discovered, along with all of those who have truly loved God, that there is no contradiction. There is neither conflict, nor discord between loving God and loving our neighbor. To show this, there are an endless number of stories and examples, but to recall the parable of the Good Samaritan should be sufficient. There is no choosing whether we serve God or serve other, but in serving one, we serve the other. In treating the wounds of the beaten, we treat the wounds of Christ; in showing compassion to the fallen, we show compassion to Christ; in loving Christ, we give our love to another. This is how true and faithful love is known.
Much more can be said about the manifestation of Love, but this is something that we already know and need only to be reminded of. Here, the matter at hand is the question of an avowed life and the purpose of our life. Whatever one’s purpose may be, there his heart will lie and everything in his life will be affected and determined by that one, primary thing. To live a life that is in allegiance to Christ is the one purpose worthy of this life; it is the one purpose that will neither fail, nor betray us; it is the one purpose that will truly lead us to fulfillment of who we are, and the best things that we can become; it is the one purpose which always seeks our good, the good of others and leads us to love; and it is the purpose against which all other things are judged.
I should also take a quick moment to point out what may be a seemingly insignificant, and easily overlooked word. It is not alone that we should have a purpose in life, but St. Albert stresses that we should have an avowed purpose; that is, that we knowingly, consciously and with conviction give ourselves to the pursuit of this purpose. If it is an avowed purpose, then it is the one thing that we promise to fulfill, meaning that it is a purpose and pursuit toward which we are accountable. An avowed purpose is not something that catches us up in the popularity of a moment, it is not a passing trend or spontaneous endeavor that we adopt one day and then move on to something new the following day. An avowed purpose is made carefully and entered upon with great deliberation. An avowed purpose is also one that we have announced publicly, as our baptism was an act made publicly and in front of a community of witnesses. It is not something that we have promised in secret, nor under the protection of uncertainty, as though we could change our vow without anyone knowing the better. Our avowed purpose is known by others, that they can see the difference it has made in our life, give credit to the good that it reaps and so also, in a very real way, they also become witnesses and participants in the life that we have chosen. Is this not also the life to which we have been baptized into? A life not only graced by the forgiveness of sins, in the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, but a life already promised in the footsteps and allegiance to Christ? That what we may see underlying the Rule itself, is not something new and different, but a mere remembrance and renewal of those promises and vows that we already made when we were first born into this faith.
To live with an avowed purpose, is nothing more than to bring our baptism to life every day. I encourage you to begin each day with such a prayer and if you are not able to begin the day with a celebration of the eucharist, enter each day as you enter the church, with a touch of holy water and with the sign and name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit