What is the meaning of life? Meaning.
In other words, what do you mean when you do what you do? And what does God mean when He does what He does?
One of the mind numbing and soul numbing effects of the politically correct culture we live in is Deniability. People everywhere are doing horrendous things to other people everywhere and we are not supposed to acknowledge blame. We're supposed to buy the excuse that nobody means to do wrong. It all just happens. Stuff happens.
Well, mostly no. Mostly the stuff that happens is people doing bad things to you and you doing bad things to people. Now, it's true that when we act selfishly we usually don't intend the consequences of our actions, but we certainly intend the thing we aim for, and we go for it despite the consequences, despite the harm we cause.
- A man certainly doesn't intend to harm his wife and destroy his marriage when he starts cheating; the consequences aren't what he's aiming at. But what he's aiming at is clear enough. He means to do what he's doing. He knows what he's after - what it looks like, feels like and smells like and he's going for it. To hell with the wife and kids.
- The bishops don't mean to destroy the lives of children they put at risk by protecting molesting priests. They just mean to protect the priests, regardless of the safety of children. They just do what they want and are heedless of the harm it causes. That's what we all do, isn't it? The only difference is we typically aren't selfish if we know children will be harmed. Bishops aren't like us in that way; they're usually more willing to risk the innocent.
- The leader of a cult may begin by seeking to serve some sort of benign spiritual purpose, but sooner or later he means something very specific: he wants to own you, to control you, to abuse you. People who ignore this intention do themselves grave harm. Cults just don't happen. At some point, the cult leader has a very clear purpose, a very evil purpose, and he structures everything in his life and in his group to attain it.
What I'm saying is that if we look at evil - at the many shades of wrong-doing, from harmless moments of egotism to the deliberate destruction of others - if we have the courage to peer through all the comforting excuses and tune out all of the distractions and denials that surround it; if we ignore the hand wringing and if we don't fall for the deflections of those who do evil but insist it somehow wasn't their fault - if we look through all that we see intent. We see meaning.
Disturbing as this is, it's not unlike what happens in prayer.
That's a strange thing to say.
But in the same way that courage and persistence will show us the meaning of our fellow men, so God's grace given in communion with Him in prayer allows us to see the meaning of God.
Even if we see that meaning in a sunset, or in a kind deed done to us, or in an unexpected prompting in our heart to be kind to others when we don't feel like it - all of these things are things that come with a form of prayer, or a kind of openness to What God is Saying to Us.
When we take the coward's way out by not looking clearly at the meaning behind the Fifty Shades of Selfish all around us, we also become too scared to see clearly the meaning behind common acts of generosity, the daily goodness and self-sacrifice of our fellow man, and we fail to see the meaning behind joy or peace or certitude or love - which come both directly and indirectly from God.
God is a person in a way that shocks us. Like us, He means and intends what He does. The gifts He gives us (including the gift of suffering) are not just stuff that happens by a kind of dumb luck. They are gifts, given by a giver - given intentionally and with meaning.
And the more we can intend as He does, then the more we mean - and the more meaningful our lives will become.
So try asking God in prayer to answer you in a thousand different ways, to show you in small things and big things what He means, and what He wants your life to mean.