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20 | Finding Meaning and Purpose: Definition, JP2, and General Vocation

This is a big topic!

We Need Purpose and Meaning

Think about times when you’ve felt that your actions had no meaning or purpose. 

It was a pretty bad feeling! To say the least! Yikes.

Well-being requires a sense of purpose and meaning. 

Fortunately, as Christians, we have strong spiritual resources that help us find that. 

The SPIRITUAL realm of our being does not always percolate down into our day-to-day moments, however. 

We also have MENTAL and EMOTIONAL realms of life and are PHYSICAL beings connected to others SOCIALLY in an ENVIRONMENT. 

All of those realities impact us in a big way.  

When your Spiritual, Mental, and Emotional realms are ALIGNED then we will experience meaning and purpose.  Probably a lot. At least some, however. For instance, you might be in a big transition, and getting all those realms aligned around your actions will take some time and effort. 

As Christians, we want all our spiritual life awesomeness to get down into the Mental and Emotional realms so that it shows up consistently in thought, word, and deed. Let’s make good choices for happiness.

Midlife and Meaning

The Meaning and Purpose question often pops up around midlife. It’s pretty common. There are a few reasons for this.

One reason is that our life’s roles are often shifting around midlife. We used to “just do it” when it came to those roles. We used to take the kids to their school activities, for example, but now they don’t need us to do that. 

Another reason is that our values are starting to shift. Perhaps we got a good job and it’s good, but we can see it’s not the bee’s knees and there’s more to life. Or we got the “whatever” kind of job and it’s serving its purposes but it’s time to be more. We are living a good life and got the kids in college and we can see that life is more than taking care of your family. Or, life is kind of stinky, and it’s taught us that there are higher values to pursue. Whatever the case, a natural part of maturing as a human being is to start to reassess in midlife. 

In midlife, we’ve earned some wisdom and it’s natural for us to want to make some course corrections. We want to look back in 10 or 20 years and not have regrets about the choices we are making now. 

We can get tired in midlife. You might be tempted to give up, to cave in, to “just” do whatever to fill your time so long as it doesn’t rock your boat too much. To sidestep the challenge that’s presented in our Christian walk. The challenge is to be more. Notice I didn’t say “do” more: what we are called on to do by God is very personal and it’s not right for others to judge you on that. But to BE more – yes, that’s always the challenge.  If you find yourself sidestepping – and we all do this sometimes – that’s another outlook that will stir you up to look for meaning. 

Purpose Defined

There’s no single definition that’s going to work for everyone in all situations.

Meaning and purpose are realities that we are not going to be able to define. The great universals, like Truth, Love, Beauty, Awe, and Glory… are not things that can be reduced to language.

Here’s the definition we are working with, from Richard Leider.

The purpose is that deepest belief within us, where we have a profound sense of who we are, where we came from, and what we’re here to do. It’s a source of deep vitality and vision. 

It’s also a profound sense of where we are going – that’s our addition. 

So. It’s a sense of who we are, where we came from, what we’re here to do, and where we’re going. It’s a source of deep vitality and vision. Purpose creates a unique kind of energy and vision in our lives.

I think we will be noodling on this definition for a few episodes. So I won’t try to mine it here and now. 

General Vocational Purpose: Image Bearers

A general vocation means what humans are typically called by God to be and to do. 

John Paull II wrote this in the apostolic exhortation “The lay members of Christ’s Faithful People, Christifideles Laici”: 

The People of God might be likened to the laborers in the vineyard mentioned in Matthew’s Gospel: “For the Kingdom of heaven is like a householder who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard” (Mt 20:1-2)

The gospel parable sets before our eyes the Lord’s vast vineyard and the multitude of persons, both women and men, who are called and sent forth by him to labor in it. The vineyard is the whole world (cf. Mt 13:38), which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the Kingdom of God.

 John Paul II, in Christifideles Laici, at 1

John Paull II writes of a transformation of the world: that is a call to stewardship of creation. It’s part of the human vocation described in Genesis wherein humanity is made in the image of God and is given dominion. Adam is made in the image of God. God’s dominion is wise, just, merciful, faithful, diligent, and loves life and freedom. God’s dominion is not selfish, greedy, exploitative, resentful, manipulative, or jealous and does not crush the spirit of those under His care. 

As a steward of vocation, Adam is reflecting God’s image into creation. God made humans. Humans reflect him into creation. 

God loves His creation and loves its humans. His humans love Him back and give him glory. His humans are like still water that reflects the sky. Like a calm lake that seems like a mirror. That’s a natural vocation to worship God and reflect the praises of creation back to God. AND there’s a vocation to reflect God back to creation by exercising this just and right stewardship in the way that God intended. 

The Church sometimes speaks of the Christian’s role as “Priest, Prophet, and King.” As an image-bearer of God, humans reflect God into creation and simultaneously reflect God’s being, especially His love, back to God. 

The lay faithful participate, for their part, in the threefold mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet and King. This aspect has never been forgotten in the living tradition of the Church …. [A]t the beginning of my pastoral ministry, my aim was to emphasize forcefully the priestly, prophetic and kingly dignity of the entire People of God in the following words: “He who was born of the Virgin Mary … has come to make us ‘a kingdom of priests.’ The Second Vatican Council has reminded us of the mystery of this power and of the fact that the mission of Christ as Priest, Prophet-Teacher, and King, continues in the Church. Everyone, the whole People of God, shares in this threefold mission.

John Paul II, in Christifideles Laici, at 14

So part of being in Christ means we’re in this kingdom with Christ and we’re living this vocation of worship and stewardship that the spirit makes possible. 

And So What About That General Vocation? 

We are talking about Meaning and Purpose! 

We have a general vocation of working in Christ’s kingdom. Now and until the final coming of the kingdom. As John Paul II writes: “The vineyard is the whole world (cf. Mt 13:38), which is to be transformed according to the plan of God in view of the final coming of the Kingdom of God.”

The question I like is: How am I bringing about the restoration of the kingdom? What’s the bit of the kingdom that I am working to transform? What’s my part? What is my purpose? What am I bringing to the party? 

The kingdom is big: it’s the whole world! It’s the entirety of human endeavor. There are many ways to bring about restoration. Talk about a target-rich environment! 

Purpose and meaning operate at many different levels in life. There’s the moment to moment. There are short-term and long-term. There are ultimate and also secondary purposes. Big and small. Personal and communal. There are the realms of the spiritual, the mental, and the emotional. 

Having a sense of how you are carrying out your general vocation is part of that picture. 

We have much more to share and discuss on this topic! Glad you can be here with you today.

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