Today, I rejoin the blogosphere after a long hiatus which was due to the time-consuming process of applying to graduate school for next year. I applied to seven (!) graduate programs, which I consider a serious accomplishment. Applying to grad school is no easy task. For one, it can be incredibly intimidating, since you’re trying to look smart in the face of professors who’ve shown themselves to be complete rockstars in your field. Then, with your confidence bruised and battered, you have to write essays all about how amazing you are and how you’re going to change the world. Well, hopefully I managed to squeeze out something of value and all will be well for next year. In the meantime, however, I’m going to put this behind me, as I wait to hear back from schools, and write about something that kept me going throughout this process: keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus.
Providentially, perhaps, the first reading from yesterday’s mass was a wonderful selection from one of my favorite books in the bible: The Epistle to the Hebrews. This book has a lot of wonderful theology which speaks about Christ in the New Covenant and compares our relationship to him now to our relationship to God in the Old Covenant. Great stuff. The first sentence of yesterday’s reading went like this, “Brothers and sisters: Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us rid ourselves of every burden and sin that clings to us and persevere in running the race that lies before us while keeping our eyes fixed on Jesus…”
The first part of this verse, which is an allusion to the Communion of Saints, provides some great motivation for avoiding sin; there are tons of people watching you at every second. Cool. But then there’s this second part, about keeping our eyes set on Jesus while running “the race that lies before us.” Banal and commonsensical as it sounds, this is one of the most important and oft-forgot tenets of Christianity. It can be tough to pull off, but doing so is the key to doing Christianity right, and, as we Christians believe, the key to happiness. One of my roommates, Daniel Klimek , is very happy guy, reason being that he is very good at keeping things in perspective, that is, in relation to the ultimate goal of encountering Christ.
The first important thing to realize, in my opinion, about the words of the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, is that we are all running a race. We have no choice in the matter; every human being is trying to get something out of life. That’s why we get up in the morning, that’s why we go to work, that’s why we apply to seven graduate programs. What we do have a choice in, however, is what we run for. We all have to put our eyes on something – what is it going to be? For all of us, it is easy to put our eyes on the thing that we think will free us from our present problems. When we have money problems, we put our eyes on getting more money. When we are stressed, we put our eyes on vacation. It’s okay to set our eyes on such things as short-term goals, but the ultimate thing that we should set our eyes on is Christ. I think that there are two main reasons for this.
The first is that contemplating Christ is the most useless thing that a person could possibly do. If that sounds disrespectful, I think it’s indicative of our culture’s obsession with utility. Most of the things that we do, we do for the sake of something else. We work to earn money, exercise to maintain health, and study so as to gain knowledge. But there are some things that we do purely for their own sake. These things are useless, because we can’t do them for the sake of anything else, but, if you think about it, they’re also the most important things. We read novels for pure enjoyment. Doing so is useless, but it is also wonderfully satisfying. Everything else that we do in life, we do so that we can do things like read novels. This shows that there is something about reading novels that fulfills us more than the other, practical things we do on a daily basis. We are beings of significance. We like things to make sense, we like to understand what’s going on around us (how else do you explain gossip? or the awful feeling in the pit of your stomach when you see people sharing secrets that you’re not privy to?). It follows, therefore, that the thing that will bring is the greatest satisfaction is the thing that has the greatest significance, which is Jesus. Praying to Jesus, contemplating him, is the most useless thing that a person could do. This means that everything else that a person does is less important than contemplating Jesus, and so everything else must be subordinated to this activity.
The second thing, I think, is that, since contemplating Jesus is the most significant thing that a person can do, it is also an activity that can enlighten and enliven all of our other activities. Living our lives with our eyes set on Christ adds a deeper level of significance to all of our daily activities. Not only do I work to make money, but I make money so that I can feed my family (this is hypothetical – I don’t have a family to feed), which Jesus himself told us was the moral equivalent of feeding him! (Matthew 10:42) I apply to grad school not so that I can make a name for myself as a prominent professor, but so that I can study the words of Jesus and share my findings with anyone who cares to listen. This approach reduces the stress of the whole grad school application process, because I know that, if I do my best, then I am doing the work of the Lord and I am successful in that even if I am not practically successful in actually getting accepted to the schools that I want to go to. In effect, Jesus told is to “be perfect” (Matthew 5:48) and I think that the only way to be perfect, that is, to maximize our abilities in an intergal way so that we work for the sake of the good, is to do everything for Jesus. Running the race with our eyes on fixed on Jesus assures us of a permanent goal (ie, one that doesn’t fade away, like worldly fame) that is attainable (ie, doing the work of Christ can sometimes be aided by worldly success, but doesn’t depend on it), and effects everything we do (ie, sometimes we get so hung up on one goal, that we neglect other parts of our person. For example, an athlete may neglect his intellectual development, and a professor may neglect his physical development).
Keeping our eyes fixed on Christ therefore provides us with the most fulfilling, longest-lasting, and all-encompassing happiness that we could possibly find. Let’s not forget to do it