Reaching for material wealth or for the rich meaning in life offers a great sense of accomplishment for many, but comes with a price we'll have to pay. We all want to be rich, happy, healthy, wise, and even holier, but how we get there successfully is the golden key we're all seeking. I believe it's just a matter of proactively taking responsibility for those in our immediate family, lending our talents and loving service to others. Doing this will bring us peace while keeping our souls intact. In the beautiful words of Mother Teresa, "If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family."
Service can be just as richly rewarding for unmarried people without children; whether it's through a meaningful profession, taking care of parents, brothers, sisters, or neighbors and friends. When we're with God, we are in communication through consistently giving and serving others. When we're not in communion with God, we're still in service, but to ourselves, sadly, by focusing instead on getting or taking. This, I believe, leaves a void for those under our care and projects a sense of lack throughout the world. There's going to be soul work and labor ahead, either way, which will keep us occupied. It matters which call we answer and it makes all the difference whether we give or take. Laying down our lives for others instills our conscious with more confidence to fulfill our purpose in life. It imbues everyone with hope.
I just finished reading a beautiful book, Called to Community: The Life Jesus Wants for His People, by Plough Publishing House in which people who have pioneered life in intentional Christian community talk about what it takes to establish, nurture, and sustain such a community over the long haul. I've been doing some soul searching and observance in my own life and found that when we understand more what community living is really all about and want to be a part of it, we'll find these opportunities. And for those who are eager to work and start living in a community, this remarkable book will help them do so and sustain it. Reading Called to Community helped to strengthen and encourage me.
I'd like to share a different but related story. If you've tasted loneliness in a crowd, or obstacles under your own roof, this story might make you look at things differently. Thomas Merton said, "Living alone does not necessarily isolate people, and that merely living together does not necessarily bring us into communion with one another."
My mother was my role model in communal living even though she hardly had time to leave the house. She shared the golden key to life with everyone she met. She told her children stories of love and forgiveness, hoping to instill in us a compassionate heart. She silently cried, watching the news of some crisis in other parts of the world. She silently cried for her friends' and neighbors' lot in life, when they went without food or clothing, were lonely, sick, or grief-stricken. But even more, she was active in helping the needy and keeping watch over other children around the neighborhood along with raising her own 17 children. This is what she did best, and with love and grace, she never doubted that she could do it. All the while, Mom thrived and so did we! But when she died, the light went out for our family. In a moment, God was still. It was dark. But I now believe this was just a pause while she handed God's light over to us.
Among many beautiful stories of witnessing others who have carried this light and made sacrifice for richer meaningful lives for others, my mother's story stays with me. Most people would agree that her lot in life was only one of tremendous sacrifice and service to keep her huge family together without reward of any kind. But as one of her children, I see things differently. Her life was richly blessed. She died at the young age of 60, and had never known the heartaches of being single or lonely, or felt the strain and pressure of a professional career, or the agony of being separated from her children or husband, or being widowed. She was never too sick to take care of her children, which she considered her primary responsibility in life. She never had to lay to rest most of her family as the oldest of 7 siblings and the first to die. She was fortunate never to meet these devastating sorrows and sufferings, but instead she felt worry, tension, heartache, and conflicts on a daily basis. And yet, these problems only softened her more and she always showed great empathy towards those who suffered loss of any kind. Mom overcame incredible odds in her life but I don't think her devotion to God and reward is as obvious to others as it is to me. As a child, I can still recall her heartfelt words that she could bear raising all 17 of us children on her own, given she'd remained healthy. But she couldn't have born losing one of us or having any of us or our father have a serious illness while raising the rest of us. She fulfilled her purpose while living a silent grace with that unseen presence of God.
It is my mother's story and reflections about that keep my doubts away. I try my best to use her rich and blessed life to encourage others to balance their lot in life against their blessings, however many obstacles they face. Mom's wisdom and faith in God continue to remind me that we need only to open our hearts wider and be even kinder to everyone around us. The dark places are there as an opportunity to bring more light to the spaces between us that would otherwise blind us into believing we are all alone.
About Catherine Nagle: Catherine grew up in Philadelphia with 16 brothers and sisters, reared by loving, old school Italian parents. Catherine's artist father's works graced churches and public buildings; her mother was a full-time homemaker. A professional hairdresser, Catherine worked in various salons while studying the Bible and pursuing spiritual growth through courses, seminars, lectures, works of Marianne Williamson, and conferences, including the National Theology of the Body Congress. She is also an Ambassador of the Society of Emotional Intelligence. The mother of two children and now a grandmother, Catherine lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and son. She is the Author of Imprinted Wisdom.