If technology remained in the service of what is higher than itself — reason, man, God — it might indeed fulfill some of the functions that are now mythically attributed to it. But becoming autonomous, existing only for itself, it imposes upon man its own irrational demands, and threatens to destroy him. Let us hope it is not too late for man to regain control.
I have come to think that care of the soul requires a high degree of resistance to the culture around us, simply because that culture is dedicated to values that have no concern for the soul. To preserve our precious hearts, we may have to live economically against the grain, perhaps so as not to be forced into soul maiming work just to place bread on the table or put our children through college. We may not want to be plugged into electronic media and have our thoughts laundered daily with biased news, superficial commentary, and “lite” entertainment. We may not want to contribute to disastrous pollution of nature or participate in the current value empty philosophy of education. This comtemptus mundi is not a misanthropic, superior rejection of life’s pleasures but, rather, a compassionate attempt to find more grounded pleasure and communal fulfillment in deep appreciation for life relieved of ambition and control.
Merton most succinctly identifies what he means by vocation in his book No Man Is an Island, in which we read, Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God’s will, to be what God wants us to be.
Until and unless Christ is someone happening between people, the Gospel remains largely an abstraction. Until he is passed on personally through faithfulness and forgiveness, through bonds of union, I doubt whether he is passed on at all.
While Clare and her religious sisters were still subject to the confines of the monastic cloister, Francis and his religious brothers moved beyond the walls of a monastery, rectory, or cathedral house—the typical locations of male religious life up to that time. Francis saw Jesus’ personal model and his instructions in the Gospel as an example for an itinerant lifestyle that involved popular preaching, daily work, communal prayer, and encounter with women and men of all backgrounds and in all locations. It was both freeing and risky.
Focus on people rather than causes and projects. Although God does urge you to support causes and projects, his main concern is how well you love and serve people in the process of working on those efforts. Don’t let yourself get stuck daydreaming about ambitious causes and projects in the abstract, without actually following up on your ideas. Instead, get to work serving the real and specific people whom you encounter on a daily basis. As you keep dying to yourself and inviting God to work through you, you’ll do extraordinary work in ordinary ways.
What is more, Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness. “Through the greatness and the beauty of creatures one comes to know by analogy their maker” (Wis 13:5); indeed, “his eternal power and divinity have been made known through his works since the creation of the world” (Rom 1:20). For this reason, Francis asked that part of the friary garden always be left untouched, so that wild flowers and herbs could grow there, and those who saw them could raise their minds to God, the Creator of such beauty. Rather than a problem to be solved, the world is a joyful mystery to be contemplated with gladness and praise.
In a very real sense not one of us is qualified, but it seems that God continually chooses the most unqualified to do God’s work, to bear God’s glory. If we are qualified, we tend to think that we have done the job ourselves. If we are forced to accept our evident lack of qualification, then there’s no danger that we will confuse God’s work with our own, or God’s glory with our own.
We should have a fixed center which, like the hub of a wheel, governs our movements and from which all our actions go out and to which they return; a standard, also, or a code by which we distinguish the important from the unimportant, the end from the means, and which puts actions and experiences into their proper order; something stable, unaffected by change and yet capable of development, which makes it clear to us who we are and how matters stand with us.
Prayer is that relationship with God which opens the eyes of believers to the sanctity of all life—from earthworms to humans, from quarks to stars. Everything that exists reflects the goodness of God. Prayer is the breath of the Holy Spirit within us that opens our eyes to the divine good which saturates our world.