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Father Paul Keenan

Destiny, Freedom and the Justice of the Soul
by Father Paul Keenan

Soulful living is a different way of thinking about life. As I ponder this, I’m led to recall two statements made by theologian John S. Dunne in his book The Way of All the Earth (University of Notre Dame Press, 1978). In describing the pivotal statement of Hinduism, tat tvam asi ("you are that"), Dunne finds that implicit in the statement are two lines of thinking about life. The first: "Whatever belongs to my life shall enter into it." The second: "Whatever enters into my life shall belong to it."

Heart Storming by Father Paul Keenan

Those two statements intrigue me, because they raise several reflections that are significant for soulful living. "What belongs to my life?" is a question about fate or destiny. "What enters into my life?" is a question about the freedom I have to affirm or to shape my destiny. Dunne’s two statements, taken together, raise the question of whether we are locked into a destiny or whether we can shape it.

Destiny and freedom seem at first to be opposites. Tom calls me, an old friend, who is agonizing because he is out of work and has had no success in finding any. As he unfolds his tale of woe, he tells me that throughout the course of his life, he has given generously to others but that others have never been there for him. He is destined, he tells me, to be an outsider when it comes to receiving life’s blessings. He is also destined to be a loser, he claims; and it is clear that be believes that he cannot change that. "Saying yes to destiny means saying no to freedom," he tells me. Yet as I listen to Tom, I sense unhappiness about the inevitability of his fate. What he is really telling me is that his situation isn’t fair.

Now I have the lever for working with Tom. Can I get him to probe that sense of the unfairness of his life? If I can, I can put him in touch with his soul.

Reconciling opposites is the work of the soul. Tom thinks that in his case, destiny and freedom are irreconcilable. He’s had plenty of evidence to support his belief that he is destined for failure and that there is nothing he can do about it. Yet he’s hurt and angry. To me, those are the voices of his soul. They cry out for me to hear them so that, in turn, I can get Tom to hear them.

I have come to think that the words "fair" and "unfair" are keys to the soul. They are words about Justice; and by its Latin etymology, Justice means "getting what is right for you." When I ask Tom why he feels badly about being locked into his destiny, he says, "I deserve better," and "Others get what they deserve, and so should I."

Stages of the Soul by Father Paul Keenan

Once I get Tom to admit that his life is unfair and that he is unhappy about it, he’s on the way to admitting that there just could be more to life than what he sees. Perhaps there is more to his life than he realizes; otherwise, why bother to be unhappy?

If there’s more to Tom’s life than what he sees, what could it be? At this point, it may be, say, a good job, more money, a better house. If he can’t seem to express it, I might try getting him to talk about what he loves to do.

But next, I want to see if I can get Tom to identify the force that made him dissatisfied with his life, and that now points him in more agreeable directions. I want him to become aware of it, and to see how it led him to question the adequacy of his original, sense-based conclusion that he was inevitably locked into failure.

If I can get Tom to that point, he’ll be just about where Moses was as he stood before the burning bush. (Exodus 3: 1- 14.) A Presence drew Moses away from his normal experience and led him to envision something more – freedom from being locked into his life in Egypt. As Moses’ awareness went increasingly toward the Presence, he felt a need to know what it was. I am hopeful that Tom, too, will learn to name it, because I want him to draw upon it again and again.

Here, I have called it Justice, meaning a caring Presence that upsets Tom when things are not right, draws him to a wider range of options and ultimately brings him to an awareness of itself. This Justice demolishes the notion that life is unfair and leads Tom to a deeper sense of self and to a broader range of possibilities. "What belongs to Tom’s life" – his destiny – becomes much broader than he had previously imagined. He is destined, not to be a failure, but instead to allow whatever enters into his life to belong to it, to shape it, to create him. "What enters into his life" is also broader, because he can choose from a broader range of options than before. Both his sense of destiny and his sense of freedom have been transformed by knowing that there is Justice in life, after all, and that Justice includes Tom.

Good News for Bad Days: Living a Soulful Life by Father Paul Keenan

But I could just as well call this Justice by the name Soul, for it is an animator, a spiritual principle, the moral essence of life, and the guide to identifying and fulfilling one’s true destiny – the qualities you will find in the dictionary if you look up "Soul."

These meanderings do, at the end, lead us back to our question about the nature of soulful living. I said earlier that to live soulfully was to think differently from the way people ordinarily think. When Tom first called me, he thought as many reasonable people think when they have experienced the School of Hard Knocks. He believed that he was destined to be a loser and that there was no way out. However, once he became aware that he was unhappy about that, he came to realize that there was a Presence that was beginning to reveal to him a whole new sense of life, a life that was not rigid, but guided by a Justice that, far from ostracizing him, cared for him. He began to see new options for himself; but, more importantly, he began to develop a relationship with the Presence, with the Soul, with God.

So what does this say about soulful living? It says that part of soulful living lies in being dissatisfied with our limits. It also says that part of soulful living is to allow that dissatisfaction to have a positive role in guiding us to know that we are, after all, destined for more than our present limited condition. Finally, it says that the ultimate direction of soulful living is to open up to us the possibility of a relationship with the Soul itself, with the divine, and to see how it is the Source of all that is and all that lies along the road of our future.

© Copyright 2002 Father Paul Keenan.  All Rights Reserved.

Father Paul Keenan
Father Paul Keenan: Popular speaker, author and radio co-host of WABC Radio’s "Religion on the Line," Father Paul Keenan likes to talk and write about the issues that matter to people. Widely experienced as a national and local television and radio news commentator, he is the author of Good News for Bad Days, Stages of the Soul and Heartstorming. As Director of Radio Ministry of the Archdiocese of New York, he supervises, produces and writes for various radio and television programs. In addition, he serves as a parish priest in New York City.

Father Paul Keenan, came to his now-ten-year-old career in New York broadcasting after having been a college teacher and administrator and a parish priest for many years. He hails from Kansas City, where he graduated from Rockhurst University and completed an M.A. in Moral and Pastoral Theology at Saint Louis University. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1977, and went on to complete an M.A. in Philosophy at Fordham University.

Father Paul is also known for his work on the Web. He hosts his own website (www.fatherpaul.com) and contributes regular articles to various other sites. He is a regular columnist for the monthly newspaper, "Catholic New York." His other talents and interests include reading, cooking and being humble servant to his three cats, Teddy, Lionel and Midnight.





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