Part 1 - What is the meaning of life?
To begin this journey into basics of Catholicism we will initially focus on the Creed. However, that we may more effectively consider “what” we believe as given to us in the Creed, it is important to first look at a right response to a universal question: What is the meaning of life? Whether people claim to be religious, spiritual, or neither, this question has always remained relevant in every time and place.
For some, an attempt at an answer to the meaning of life comes with a dismissive claim that life has no meaning – thinking that all is by random chance, including our being alive (ironically, such a position is a concept of meaning). Others may pin the meaning of life on their own sense of consciousness – trying to draw meaning totally from within themselves and their own thoughts, experiences, or “personal beliefs”, while seeing things outside themselves only in relation to themselves. Still others seek meaning in conquest (for relationships, for material possessions, for a personal legacy, in wanting to “make a difference,” etc.). Finally, others recognize that meaning in life comes from another – one who is greater and more powerful than they themselves are.
In our Catholic faith, the meaning of life is established by God Himself – who is the Creator of life and of all that is. Plainly stated, it is by God’s creative act that we exist…and therefore we are completely dependent upon Him to be. More beautifully, it is also true to say that God wants each one of us to be – and His want for us is for no other purpose than that we would be one with Him and have a share in His own life. To be His own in this way is not as though God is an owner and we are his material property that he can keep or dispose of in any arbitrary manner. No, God loves us perfectly, and reveals Himself as “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit;” whose own nature is a “communion of persons” and whose everlasting wish is for those whom He created in His own image and likeness to share in this communion. Thus, it is by this love that He brings us into being – we cannot exist but for Him willing us to exist as an expression of His own life and love. Likewise, it is His love that sustains us and seeks to bring us into an everlasting share in His own life of communion. Therefore, the heart of the matter is in this: God loves us and we exist by way of His love being expressed and offered, bringing us into being.
Our true purpose is this: God made us for Himself to be sharers in His eternal life of love. Likewise, we can say that God, who Himself is love, made us for love: that is, to be loved and to love. Finally, as this love is for all eternity, we can extend this purpose to say that God made us for “eternal life and love in heaven.” As “The New St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism” has it: God made us to share His everlasting life in heaven, which we receive by way of knowing, loving, and serving Him in this life and that we learn to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in and through the Catholic Church.
In conclusion: the Catholic faith understands the meaning of life to be this: to live forever in God in heaven. The first movement is that God wills us to be. As we shall see, our response of “faith” in God has a part to play in our receiving and fully entering into this purpose. We will consider this response of faith in our next installment.
For further reading: Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 1-49 offers both a good introduction to the Catechism and begins to answer who we are and why God made us; paragraphs 1699-1729 say more about our human nature and the call to share eternal life and communion with God in heaven (or the call to “beatitude”).