Father Mark, Reflections

Meaning in the Midst of Adversity

I reviewed an article by Maria Popova (some of which is borrowed here) on Victor Frankl who survived Auschwitz.  Even though the COVID-19 event cannot be compared to the horrors of the atrocities of the Nazi concentration camps, there can be something gleaned from Frankl’s work that can apply to our situation.  COVID-19, in comparison to the Nazi’s, is an adversary invisible to the human eye which has the potential to create suffering and end human life.   Even though invisible, COVID—19 still exerts an external pressure which restricts our liberty of action.  Our system of meaning can become at risk during times when some entity represses our ability to live, work and create. 

Frankl believed that meaning came from three sources:  purposeful work, love and courage in the face of difficulty.  My perspective is that the spiritual life is tied up with all three of these sources.   Frankl believed that the “intensification of inner life” as the transformative power of love to be the primary source which kept prisoners alive.  One finds love primarily in the spiritual being of oneself and the other, even if the person is deceased, as was his wife who died in a concentration camp. 

Frankl also believed that humor allows a person to rise above the situation, even if only temporary. Laughter releases dopamine in the brain, increasing pleasure and releasing stress.

But when human liberty is curtailed beyond ones’ own choosing by an oppressive force, what happens to that person’s freedom to escape the influence of their surroundings?  Frankl experienced that a person does have a choice of action.  A person can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind:  “The last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

“The way in which a man accepts his fate and all the suffering it entails, the way in which he takes up his cross, gives him ample opportunity — even under the most difficult circumstances — to add a deeper meaning to his life.”

Meaning is not something “out there” floating around to be discovered.  Meaning comes from embracing God in the “Now” of what is before us.  Jesus was a perfect example of this.  The Gethsemane event exemplified Jesus meeting life/suffering/death and the Father head on.  This is where Frankl’s third source of courage in the face of difficulty is realized.  Another word for courage is faith.    

Frankl’s following quote sums it all up:  No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities.

Perseverance is holy work,

Fr. Mark