Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Catholic and Jew -- Different Paths, Same Destination

It is my belief, indeed an opinion I heard many times growing up Catholic, that the Jewish faith is elder brother to the Catholic faith.  This only makes sense, as Jesus was a Jew.  We share so many attributes regarding the meaning of life, morality, even the old joke, guilt.  Of course we separate sharply at the most important point, the arrival of the Messiah.  Still, the similarities in life outlook are there, and a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust reminds us in his writings of what is a basic attitude toward earthly life for both faiths.  The author of Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl, is highlighted in the Atlantic Monthly article, "There's More To Life Than Being Happy."   (Click on title for full article.)

A priest once told my brother that it is our natural desire to be happy, but happiness is not the ultimate goal of life, and we may not get it.  Our life's purpose is oneness with God, and the way we must live is not always a recipe for earthly happiness -- but it is all that really counts.  It's a hard thing to hear, as most truths are.  Most of the time, as Catholics say, we have to walk the Way of the Cross along with Christ.  That brings great joy, but joy is not the same as the cultural human idea of happiness.   Joy is a lasting experience of great depth; happiness is a temporary feeling which, after it fades, searches again for more.  It is a difficult concept to comprehend.  However, it is a basic Christian truth.

In an excerpt from the article, Frankl describes his idea of the meaning and ultimate attitude toward life:

In September 1942, Viktor Frankl, a prominent Jewish psychiatrist and neurologist in Vienna, was arrested and transported to a Nazi concentration camp with his wife and parents. Three years later, when his camp was liberated, most of his family, including his pregnant wife, had perished -- but he, prisoner number 119104, had lived. In his bestselling 1946 book, Man's Search for Meaning, which he wrote in nine days about his experiences in the camps, Frankl concluded that the difference between those who had lived and those who had died came down to one thing: Meaning, an insight he came to early in life. When he was a high school student, one of his science teachers declared to the class, "Life is nothing more than a combustion process, a process of oxidation." Frankl jumped out of his chair and responded, "Sir, if this is so, then what can be the meaning of life?"

As he saw in the camps, those who found meaning even in the most horrendous circumstances were far more resilient to suffering than those who did not. "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing," Frankl wrote in Man's Search for Meaning, "the last of the human freedoms -- to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

For myself, I plan to find a copy of Man's Search for Meaning.  The wisdom displayed just in this short excerpt is  a promise of greater things to come.


Amelia Garland said...

I highly recommend Frankl. I read Mans Search for Meaning and it is very deep. I also have written many papers about him and his theories on self-efficacy. I am sure you will enjoy his works.

ClassicBecky said...

Well, Amelia, I guess we really do have a lot in common! You do have a thorough knowledge of Frankl if you have done papers on him. I certainly do intend to read Man's Search for Meaning. Thanks for coming over!