Finding Meaning in Life

I came across a quote by Neil deGrasse Tyson recently that has me thinking:

The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You’d be surprised how far that gets you.

This broad panorama of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO's Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. Picture: ESO/T. Preibisch

This broad panorama of the Carina Nebula, a region of massive star formation in the southern skies, was taken in infrared light using the HAWK-I camera on ESO’s Very Large Telescope. Many previously hidden features, scattered across a spectacular celestial landscape of gas, dust and young stars, have emerged. Picture: ESO/T. Preibisch

I am a huge fan of Tyson. He has done a great deal to further science education and awareness. Despite some misgivings about his portrayal of the Church in his remake of Cosmos, which is probably the result of Seth MacFarlane more than Tyson himself, I have seen every episode. I also listen to his podcast, StarTalk, regularly. So when I read this quote, I thought, “That sounds nice. It makes sense. We are responsible for our own destinies.” But something wasn’t quite working for me. While the sentiment was nice, there was something missing. I agree with Tyson’s thought that we should constantly be learning, and work towards lessening the suffering of others. His statement on how we create our own love and meaning, however, gives me pause.

The answer to my misgivings is best expressed in Sunday, May 18th’s, reading from the Gospel of St. John:

Jesus said to his disciples: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You have faith in God; have faith also in me. In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If there were not, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back again and take you to myself, so that where I am you also may be. Where I am going you know the way.” Thomas said to him, “Master, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father. From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

In some sense, Tyson is right; we must work to create love and meaning in our lives. That love, however, does not originate from ourselves. The love, the meaning we find in life, is in Jesus Christ. He is the only “way” that can give us true meaning and fulfillment. In His “truth” we find the reality of love, and the power of mercy and forgiveness. In His “life” we discover our vocation to holiness. Tyson is correct when he says love and meaning cannot be found behind a tree or a under a rock. In fact, they cannot even be found in studying astrophysics and piecing together the secrets of the cosmos, a pursuit which I have enjoyed following since I was a young child.

The pursuit of learning and scientific truth remains laudable, and can carry a person far in life, but it cannot carry a person to the fullness of truth; they are but roads to Truth. The love and meaning that Tyson speaks of, whether we realize it or not, comes from a journey with something greater than ourselves. This something, rather someONE, brings us to the fullness of Truth, the Word of God.

Study the world. Study the universe, but remember that the true meaning of life goes much deeper.

Pax et bonum.

PS: There’s a new post over at Consider Priesthood. Check it out!

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