Traditions at Home and at Church help us find meaning in life: we find Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life in our acts of charity


Traditions at Home and at Church help us find meaning in life: we find Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life in our acts of charity

The Existential Vacuum: Victor Frankl defines the existential vacuum as a twentieth-century phenomenon in which many people feel that life is meaningless…  An existential vacuum manifests itself primarily through boredom, which then leads to distress.  Frankl notes, … that many people become distressed on Sundays when they are not so busy and have time to contemplate the meaning of their lives.  Those living in such a vacuum often try to fill this void with sex or money.

Jesus, in the Gospel, is trying to prepare the disciples for his departure which, we know, was traumatic and confusing for them.  They had developed a very powerful meaning in life: they had left everything and followed Jesus (married people are similar).

We know from the latter parts of the Gospels that the disciples were afraid, had given up hope and gone fishing, or walked away from Jerusalem (the Road to Emmaus).

Frankl continues: once, man was able to overcome great loss by relying on tradition but, in the twentieth century, these traditions are falling away.

We can easily see a link, in countries where people are leaving the traditions of the Church (and family life?), and the huge, rapid, increase in mental health problems for more and more people.

However, the disciples, having largely left the Jewish traditions to embrace Christ, and seen the arguments of Jesus with the Jewish Elders (not to mention getting beaten by them!), suddenly found themselves in an existential vacuum!

For many young people finishing school can be a traumatic time, as they suddenly try to make their own way in life, and articulate a meaning for their life. Perhaps this explains why many youth drink to excess or take drugs to avoid the question.

They discover, for a short time, that pleasure is OK… but, later, they can fall into depression, or try to use money as their meaning, until they become lonely or injured and unable to enjoy it.

It was only when Christ reconnected with the disciples, after the Resurrection, that they were able to transform their meaning of life into reality: through suffering/ sacrifice we find joy, as long as the suffering/ sacrifice is for the good of others, as much as ourselves.

Sacrificing is not an easy bridge for most of us to cross, especially now when we have instant cures for almost everything… except boredom!

How about each one of us?  Are we bored?  But, what is boredom?  Most of us have a very simplistic understanding… but here are five types of boredom:

  1. Calibrating boredom: unpleasant feeling: wanting to do something different, but what?
  2. Searching boredom: you feel unhappy, but remain proactive search for something good.
  3. Reactant boredom: anger/ frustration; feel tense and desperately seeking an escape route.
  4. Indifferent boredom: you might appear calm, relaxed, or withdrawn: can be a good relax.
  5. Apathetic boredom: can feel helpless and has the potential to contribute to depression.

Often we tend to blame other issues in life and think: if I can fix this, all will be well.  Frankl says that many patients have other types of neuroses that need… traditional psychoanalysis, but argues that the patient will never be “healed” if treated through psychoanalysis alone.

Our Oblate youth agreed that when they are challenged, they often think of their parents and ask themselves “what would mum/ dad do?”. This helps them understand why Jesus said to the disciples: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life;” when challenged reflect on how I, Jesus, lived with you, and follow my example.

The reality that Jesus would go away and later come back, is a great model for parents: give instructions to the children, but allow them some freedom (from time to time at the right age), to let them experience their absence, and force them to apply their learning.

The Resurrection and Ascension, with Pentecost, taught the disciples, and us, that Christ is always with us: in our hearts and minds if we wish it.  In the same way, many people say, after Mum passed away, I still feel their presence in my heart. Sometimes God might seem absent to us, but it’s an opportunity to turn back to traditions.

Of course, there are many issues that mum/dad never dealt with, and this is where we see the power of knowing Christ through the Gospels, and our regular prayer life.

Traditions at home, and traditions at Church, are both critical for our well-being and happiness. Let’s not walk away from family or Church because of anger at some issue(s), let our anger push us to correct/rescue the Church for the sake of ourselves, our children and our society.

Finally, the practice of charity is one of the most important traditions of the Church. We see this carefully managed by the Apostles in our First Reading, and it challenges us to go beyond charity to our clan, to embrace everyone.

By Gerard Conlan, OMI