Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Remembering Dad #7: A Conversation (One of Many)

Recently I read an article by the syndicated columnist, Fr. Ronald Rolheiser, in the Catholic Herald of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. What he said reminded me of a conversation I had with my dad, which took place when I was in college, when Dad was driving me somewhere in Chicago.

I was telling Dad about my plans for the future, explaining how happy I would be to finish my courses and graduate from De Paul. It seemed as though school was lasting forever…. Not that I didn’t like it, but it was costly, and I wanted a job---the kind that would support me.

I rattled off my plans: First the college degree in elementary education. Then the teaching job in a Catholic school. Then a car. Then a place to live on my own. Independence. Then, maybe down the road, a graduate degree. Then…. Then….

When Dad finally got a word in edgewise, he asked, “Do you think all of that will really make you happy?” I should have sensed from his tone of voice, there would be a philosophy or theology lesson coming my way. We had had similar discourses since I was old enough to ask questions. I kid you not. My glib response was “of course I’ll be happy.” After all, those were the goals toward which I had been working for years.

Well, no, according to Dad all those external achievements would not make me happy. I would not be satisfied and I would always want more---more---and more. And even if I got all the “mores” it would never be enough. “Oh, c’mon, Dad! Must we philosophize now?” Actually, I always enjoyed these kinds of conversations with my Dad, but this particular one was spoiling my enthusiasm. Dad was concerned with The Absolute; I with contingents.

Getting back to Rolheiser’s column, he calls what Dad was alluding to, “attaining purity of heart…the ultimate spiritual task.” He calls this a “restless energy” and explains that in classic Christian spirituality what we yearn for is “to see God face to face.” Rolheiser gives some Biblical citations to support his thesis:

  • Exodus 33: Moses desires to see God’s glory but is told he may not see the face of God and live.
  • Psalm 42: As the deer yearns for flowing streams, so I yearn to see the face of God. I thirst for the living God; when shall I see the face of God?
  • Matthew 5: Blessed are the pure of heart, they shall see the face of God.

He also alludes to the Desert Fathers, Christian mystics, and later schools of spirituality that generally focus on “attaining purity of heart so as to see the face of God.”

So, the lesson Dad was pointing out to me back then, and which Rolheiser also teaches now, is that human happiness lies in removing within us what blocks our relationship with God, “the author of all the persons, places, beauty, love, color, and energies for which we ache”---the task of a lifetime! I'm still working on it.

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