My nephew gave me a rather unusual gift this Christmas. It was a book called, “Meditations”; not the meditations of Saint Teresa of Avila, or Saint Augustine, or Thomas Merton or anyone like that, but rather, the meditations of…Marcus Aurelius, one of those Roman emperors! Interesting, I thought to myself.
Just the other day I finally got around to opening the book, and this was what my eyes fell on…
Marcus asks a question—What is it in ourselves that we should prize? And here’s how he begins to answer this question:
Not just transpiration (even plants do that), or respiration (even beasts and wild animals breathe), or being struck by passing thoughts, or jerked like a puppet by your own impulses, or moving in herds, or eating and drinking.
Then what is to be prized?
An audience clapping? No. No more than the clacking of tongues. Which is all that public praise amounts to—a clacking of tongues.
So we throw out other people’s recognition. What’s left for us to prize?
I think it’s this: to do what we were designed for. That’s the goal of all trades, all arts, and what each of them aims at: that the thing they create should do what it was designed to do. The nurseryman who cares for the vines, the horse trainer, the dog breeder—this is what they aim at. And teaching and education—what else are they trying to accomplish?
So that’s what we should prize. Hold on to that, and you won’t be tempted to aim at anything else.
And if you can’t stop prizing a lot of other things? Then you’ll never be free, because you’ll always be envious and jealous, afraid that people might come in and take it all away from you. Plotting against those who have them—those things you prize. People who need those things are bound to be a mess—and bound to take out their frustrations on the gods. Whereas to respect your own mind—to prize it—will leave you satisfied with your own self, well integrated into your own community and in tune with the gods as well—embracing what they allot you, and what they ordain.
So, let’s take what Marcus Aurelius wrote and respond from the Christian perspective. (I wonder what he would think of us doing that!)
What are we designed for? Remember this from the good old Baltimore Catechism?
Why did God make you? God made me to know Him, love Him, and serve Him in this life, and be happy with Him in the next.
Or the more recent Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
The dignity of a person rests above all in the fact that he/she is called to communion with God.
Makes me think of that famous line from St Augustine: Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.
What does Jesus say in Mark’s gospel this morning? “This is the time of fulfillment. The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.” In other words, start doing what you were designed to do! And Saint Paul says: the time is running out.
So, we are being challenged to make some decisions. What do we want to do with the rest of our lives? Do we want to spend it going after the things we “prize”, and taking out our jealousies and frustrations in the wrong way? Are we striving for the wrong things? Will we begin to learn that we can only find our peace in Christ? Remember what Augustine says: Our hearts are restless until they rest in you.