I was sitting with a group of men discussing a passage from the Christian scriptures. It was from the gospel of John and concerned the good shepherd. One verse said "...I came to bring you life and life more abundantly." This line has been one of my favorites for many years. I was raised a fundamentalist Catholic and our goal was to get to heaven. Everything was geared towards this goal. We could even get special deals, indulgences, to make it easier and we had a bus stop, purgatory, to hang out and get things right in order to continue to the pearly gates. However, as an adult it became clear to me the message of scripture, actually the message of all moral systems, is the same. The reason to adhere to any one of them is because you can have life and life to its fullest. The reason to love your neighbor and enemies, turn the other cheek, forgive an infinite number of times and be the most human you can be is because your life will be amazingly fulfilling and joyous and wonderful. Heaven may be cool, but the promise of Jesus and Buddha and Mohammed as well as the promise of great humanists is the promise of an abundant life.
As the discussion continued, and this is such a powerful gathering every Sunday night which includes Fr. Louie Vitale OFM for a few more months, I asked if anyone could define what it means to have an abundant life...what does it mean to live life to its fullest...what is the definition of a truly filled existence? Everyone had their own take on it. I thought it would be an easy question to answer. Yet, the more we talked the more I realized how elusive the concept is. I had what looked to most like a full life. A wonderful, accomplished wife, 4 children each with so many individual gifts and strengths who I love with every ounce of my being, a great job which gave me a forum to voice my opinion, stroke my ego and even help some who couldn't help themselves. I lived in the best city in the world surrounded by other family and friends and had all the material goods we say define success. It is obvious to me now, something was missing. I was chasing something which I couldn't define. The joy, which should have been ever-present, was intermittent and anger showed its ugly head frequently. (Any of you who listened to me know, if you are honest, I could be terrible to callers and would get so angry and so worked up it became unlistenable at times) Whatever it was which was missing, led me to take risks and ignore warnings and make stupid decisions and ultimately I threw everything away and left my family in utter ruin and disappointed and embarrassed my friends and family.
So now I ask you this same question. What does it mean to have an abundant life? What does it mean to live life to its fullest? Please give this some thought. There is a temptation to answer it quickly with clichés and possibly even flippantly, but it is the key to everything I believe. We know what our culture says defines a full or abundant life. We know what a lot of famous preachers say and I think in our hearts we know that any life which is not full or abundant will lead us to chase it even if we don't know what it is we seek. I ask you to ask your family and friends this question. Don't let anyone, or yourself, off easy on this. It's too important. It's so important; Jesus says it is why He was sent to us to teach us and tell us and show us. I suspect Buddha and Mohammed and Moses and Confucius and many others would say the same thing.
At the end of John's gospel, he says he could have included a lot more stories but picked the ones he did so that you might believe and have life and life to its fullest. Are you living an abundant life now? If not why not? How do you know if you can’t define it? Have you spent much time examining what it might mean for you and yours? I spend every day trying to answer this question convinced I have to have an answer before I return to the real world. Our everyday lives leave so little time for contemplation and reflection. I'm giving you permission to stop and take some time because this is just too important to put off.
I wish I had taken this time before and avoided the stupidity and mistakes, which I brought on myself. I am so grateful to be able to write and to share with you and maybe help to remind you this is a quest well worth engaging. I look forward to your thoughts and please encourage anyone you know to add theirs. I wish you could join us on Sunday nights. It's truly an extraordinary time.