What Is the Purpose of This World?
February 2002By James V. Schall
The Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., is a professor in the Department of Government at Georgetown University. His latest book is On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs (ISI Books). This article is adapted from a speech delivered at the "Fides et Ratio Awards Symposium" in Chicago in August 2001.
Though I am still in chains I sing the praises of the churches, and pray that they be united with the flesh and the spirit of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal life; a union in faith and love, to which nothing must be preferred; and above all a union with Jesus and the Father, for if in him [Jesus] we endure all the power of the prince of this world, and escape unharmed, we shall make our way to God.
-- St. Ignatius of Antioch
What is the ultimate purpose of what goes on in the world? What ultimately is it that we see when we see before us the activities of this world?
There is an antiphon in the Roman Breviary that reads, "All you nations, sing out your joy to the Lord." But we know that nations as such do not speak or sing, though we might hope for a nation that allows us to fulfill our ultimate purposes as human beings in peace -- not all do, as we know. We may have heard of the Hegelian expression that "a happy nation has no history." We do find singing in happy lands.
But if we look over the world, both now and throughout history, we do not find many happy nations. Indeed, we are constantly being warned, even by our Church, to be concerned with the dire poverty in the world, as well as the moral decline in our own culture. The Holy Father, at Czestochowa on June 4, 1997, remarked, "we live in times of chaos, of spiritual disorientation and confusion, in which we discern various liberal and secularizing tendencies: God is often openly banished from social life...and in people's moral conduct a harmful relativism creeps in. Religious indifference spreads." This is not a happy scene.
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