Category Archives: life

How to balance life, religion and spirituality

Sunrise over Lemon Bay

Sunrise over Lemon Bay

Life is your adventure. Religion and spirituality can help you make sense of your life and navigate its challenges. When was the last time you stopped to consider what your life is all about? Why are you here on Earth? Children hear that they can be anything they want to be when they grow up. That is not quite true. Some paths require resources, money, skills or connections which might not be readily available to you. Your choices are not unlimited. 

Yet you still have many options available to you. Your family, friends, life circumstances and talents guided you toward certain paths. Those paths, suggested by people who care about you, might have been easier to follow than forging your own path, although theirs might not take you quite where you want or expect to go. More challenging paths await you down the road. These will require more effort from you when they are less familiar. Yet they might be more satisfying in the long run as you learn to manage them.
If fame, fortune and power are your main goals in life, you probably see little need for religion or spirituality. You will pursue your goals at all costs regardless of the effect on your life and the lives of those you encounter on your way through life. But you could end up living in a spiritual vacuum. You might want to at least think of reconsidering your priorities. Religion and spirituality are important to people who want their lives to be about something more than what they can grab for themselves. They form a context for living a life directed toward a higher calling.
When I was a child, a “vocation” was considered a call from God to pursue a higher purpose. At that time it meant being called to be a priest or a nun. Later it came to mean living any life in the context of a greater meaning.
How to find meaning outside the limited context of your little world is not always obvious. Where do you start? What are the steps? Spirituality is the process of finding, accepting and sharing the larger meaning of being alive as you journey through life. You can learn from others on a similar path to yours and share what you learn with your fellow travelers.
Religions are formalized systems intended to help you find the meaning for which you search on your spiritual journey. Obviously various religious systems cannot all be the one true path to spirituality and to God although many claim to be the only right way. Regardless of their claims, most religions start with the same premise, offering a way to live in unity between you and God.
How do you know if you are on the right path? Spirituality and religion both suggest reflection and meditation. If you never stop to see where you have been, where you are headed and the effect of your choices on you and those around you, you have no way to check your course or predict where you will end up.
Honest reflection will help you evaluate your life path to see whether it is taking you in the right direction. If you are hurting yourself or someone else as you proceed, you might have made a wrong turn and need a course correction.

My First Real Life Choice

I looked around during meditation that evening, especially at the priests and realized that in another ten or twenty years my life would probably resemble one of theirs. Was there anyone in the monastery I wanted to emulate? I respected several of the priests for their intelligence. Of the three priests I respected most, one seemed rather paranoid and fearful of expressing his own ideas. One I saw as selling out to the establishment and not sticking up for what he thought, much less what we thought. The third appeared broken and bereft of his dreams.

Most of the other priests I saw as unhappy in a variety of ways, or as having made compromises in their commitment to the religious life. After I had considered everyone, I realized there were no priests in the monastery I would like to turn into in the foreseeable future. I also realized that in another ten years I probably would be like one of them. None were willing to challenge the system and the few students who did want to see change were outnumbered and constantly under a cloud.

I reviewed my observations with God. I tried not to be judgmental about the priests I had just finished considering. It was up to them to decide whether they were living the life God wanted for them. It seemed clear that this was no longer the life for me. I didn’t know what God had in store for me next. It seemed that whatever it was, I had learned something about difficult times and felt ready for the next challenge.

I told Father Xavier I wanted to meet with my Uncle Bob who lived in the Union City monastery across the Hudson River from Manhattan. With his permission, I called my uncle who suggested we meet for dinner in a restaurant in Manhattan. He traveled by bus and I took the subway. Remarkably, we both arrived at the restaurant about the same time. After a few pleasantries, I told him that I was thinking of leaving the monastery. He was not surprised, based on our previous conversations and word which had filtered back to him through the Provincial.

He explained that he had always wanted to preach, but never had much of an opportunity to do so. He went to college to prepare himself to teach Physics at Holy Cross. Then he then became Rector of St. Mary’s Monastery, Rector in Scranton and eventually Provincial Consultor. I told him I thought this must have been quite frustrating. He saw it as his being willing to do the things that needed doing so others could do what they wanted.

I told him I admired his self sacrifice, but found it very difficult to let go of any dreams I had. I also found it hard to trust superiors who seemed to know so little about student development in a changing world. They seemed afraid of the changes which progress implied.

Despite our differences, he understood my position and agreed to respect whatever I decided to do. I told him I had thought about all the priests I lived with and did not want to turn out like any of them. I did not feel I had the self sacrifice to live as he did. I told him I thought it was time to leave the monastery. I felt sad on the way back to Jamaica, realizing how happy he had been when I joined the seminary and how disappointed he must be to see me leave, even thought he did not express it.

The reality of leaving seemed to come upon me fast, although I had been dissatisfied and frustrated for some time. I held out the hope that there would be a resolution to the concerns several of us had raised about the limitations and contradictions of our way of life. It became increasingly clear over time that the order was not about to budge and seemed fearful of change. The only possible resolutions seemed for me to give up my interest in change or to leave. I did not think the first choice would be possible for me without leaving me very embittered and resentful. This was not how I wanted to live. Leaving the monastery remained my only choice.

Excerpt from my memoir, Young Man of the Cloth. For a free sample, follow the link to the Amazon page and choose Look Inside. 

Finding Life in Death

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I normally blog about books, the media, marketing, and things like literacy or the First Amendment, but today we’re going to talk about life.  I got the reminder that life’s too short, too precious to waste.  A guy I knew from high school just lost his wife to cancer.  She was only 46 and was diagnosed with a rare disease just seven weeks ago.  You can never predict something like that is going to happen.  But we know it can – and does.