To What End?

Desert_road_UAE“In the face of these immense efforts which already preoccupy the entire human race, people raise numerous questions among themselves:  What is the meaning and value of this feverish activity?  How should all these things be used?  To what goal are the strivings of individuals and societies heading?”
                     From:   Gaudium et Spes (Joy and Hope):  The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, a document of the Second Vatican Council.

 This year, as the Catholic community continues to remember the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965), this quote resurfaced.  It struck me again as relevant even 50 years after it was written.  While praising the rapid advances made in science, technology, economics and politics, among other areas of human knowledge and culture it raises the essential, fundamental human question:
              “To what end are we oriented?” 

Individually and collectively, this is the central question which determines our moral compass, the foundation for our daily choices, our sense of meaning and purpose, and what is good, true, and beautiful.  How we answer defines who we are and seek to be.  Ideally, one’s ultimate hope is one that is worth living for, worth persisting through the challenges of life in order to achieve, worth taking courageous steps to grow towards, worth making sacrifices to attain, and one in which we find our deepest joy as we invest our life to make real.

“Success” alone doesn’t get us to the peace we desire, unless it is directed towards a meaningful and purposeful hope or purpose. Material possessions, career accomplishments, safety, comfort, or sexual gratification cannot alleviate the underlying anxiety which exists when people lack some good and meaningful vision for to orient their life, their time, their energy, their will, their emotional life, and their decisions.  If we are oriented towards that which is ultimately fleeting, unfulfilling or entirely self-oriented, we remain fundamentally anxious as human people, and we tend to develop the habit of responding out of this anxiety.  Anxiety becomes the voice we begin to most recognize and falsely identify as our own.

Part of the gift of a spiritual tradition and a faith community to ground you and surround you is that it offers the possibility of helping keep you oriented towards a meaningful end, one which leads ultimately towards joy and fulfillment rather than ongoing anxiety.  There is much in our society, culture, and everyday lives that steers us off-course and entices us to pursue only fleeting, material, and ultimately unsatisfactory pleasures.   As human beings, we need some forms of regular spiritual practice (meditation, prayer, journaling, walks in nature, spiritual reading, etc.) and we need each other in order to keep us honest and centered on that which is fulfilling in the end, lest we spend too much of our time and too many of our days pursuing empty promises.

I have found that to be in an ongoing, right relationship with the ultimate source of hope and joy is exactly what it means to be in relationship with God, the fruit of which is a truly desirable end:  to know oneself embraced by love and to desire only to love in return.

Mark Laboe is Associate Vice President for University Ministry at DePaul University

What George Clooney Taught Me About the Importance of Education

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What does a mediocre rental movie have to do with existential questions of humanity and the value of higher education?  Probably very little, but I will let you peek into the firing of my synapses which found a connection.

It was a free night with no plans so my wife and I rented a movie from the box in the drug store.   After some discussion we choose The Monuments Men. The movie follows the ‘based on a true story’ tale of a group of art scholars tasked with preserving masterpieces during the throes of World War II. The mission is carried out while the Nazis are seeking to seize masterpieces from the countries being militarily conquered. Worse still, because of the war paintings, sculpture, and architecturally important buildings could be destroyed either due to the fighting and bombing or intentionally due to the Nazis’ desire to eradicate a people’s culture from the earth.

The movie focused on some key questions for us as people. How can we reconcile the spending of resources on preserving works of art (no matter how beautiful) with the fact that resources are in short supply and in high demand for other needs? How can we spend lives saving art rather than defeating the enemy? More importantly, what is it we are actually fighting for? What do we truly value?

These questions make me think of current debates regarding the value of higher education.   What is higher education’s purpose or need when, in a changing job market, a college education is not necessarily required and is certainly not a guarantee of employment?

If higher education is reduced to being a hoop one needs to jump through to get a lucrative job, I will concede pursuing it may not make sense. It is however more than that. Though it may help one get a job (and well it should), higher education is about education — learning, imparting wisdom, and helping one discern vocation. Perhaps most importantly, higher education is about discovering the contributions a person will make with their one precious life.

The process of education is about making sense of life and our world; it is not so our job market can ask us what sense higher education makes.   If education was all about how to get high-paying jobs (which are not bad and can be quite good) and that is all we focused on, our societal response to positions of care and compassion for our sick, elderly, and vulnerable would be very small. Human services would not be a field, nor would most liberal arts studies. History would be lost to time, and we would gain nothing from the accomplishments of those who have gone before us. The greatest accomplishments in thought and philosophy would go unlearned and unexamined. If it is all about high paying jobs, we may well be excellent producers of products, but we may never have learned how to think.

I recently watched the eyes of a large Mexican family – all of them, from oldest to youngest, men and women – fill with tears as they looked on with pride as their loved one (daughter, granddaughter, sister, niece, great niece, cousin) donned a DePaul cap and gown, becoming the first in their family to graduate from college. She will be going into a helping profession.

If higher ed is primarily about money this scene does not make sense, but if education is about more than that – striving to achieve, learning, living dreams, discovering passions, extending one’s understanding of community – the very things that make us human, then I think we have answered what the value of higher education is.

The movie The Monuments Men makes a compelling argument that we were not simply fighting to save people nor only to stop an imperialist power. We were fighting to preserve cultures, people’s histories, and greatest accomplishments. It makes the point that we value difference, beauty, and expression as humans. It also makes the point that we are willing to do what is necessary to preserve these elements for future generations. We do this so that those who come after us will be inspired to learn about their culture, learn about where they come from, and learn about the very essence of what makes them who they are.

Presumably this is also why we continue to offer and place value upon higher education. Without education present in our society we risk becoming a culture of task completers, valued chiefly by our capacity to produce. With learning present in our society, we are humanized and we are a culture of beings valued for who we are as a people.

In the movie one of the characters asks, “Who would make sure that the statue of David is still standing or the Mona Lisa is still smiling? Who will protect her?” If the focus had only been on defeating the Germans, the “monuments men” would not have made sense and neither would the art they were trying to save. If our focus is on our humanity and our greatest expression of such, these are the values we hold dear, these are the values we fight for, and these are the reasons we endeavor to learn.


Robert J. Gilmore is the Coordinator of Faith Formation for DePaul’s Catholic Campus Ministry

 Monuments Men image from from; Egan Statue from


The ‘Sweet’ Smell of Success

DePaul women beat St. Johns
It felt like the whole season was on the line. A few nights ago I joined a gathering of DePaul faithful at Kelly’s Pub to watch our Blue Demons take on perennial power Duke on their home court in the 2nd round of the Women’s NCAA Basketball Tournament. As these things go, our group was rather modest in size – we were perhaps 20 or so faculty and staff, alums and former athletes congregated at tables and bellied up to the bar of this hallowed watering hole under the “L” that has served the DePaul community for more than three generations.

Surrounded by framed pictures of Blue Demons from the past and mindful that our revered coach Doug Bruno was himself a player for legendary DePaul coach Ray Meyer, an aura of history – of continuity – was subtly in our midst. And with it came a quiet confidence. Those of us with eyes fixed on flat screen TVs knew that the young women charging time and again up and down the floor represented old school values like “team over self,” “hard work pays off” and “fair play above all else.” And we knew it was for those reasons that our team had advanced this far in the tournament. As our women rose to the challenge before them, it was clear that much of value comes from the past and tradition.

As the second half of the game began to wane and DePaul clung to a lead I was struck anew at the talent and athleticism of the women. Lightening passes, muscular rebounds, smart court sense and cool-headed free throws kept the Blue Devils at bay. In the unison cheers and groans of those assembled at Kelly’s as well as in the passionate dissection of each play by barroom coaches during time-outs, there was little difference between this game and one played by two men’s teams. Certainly in pride and desire, the women were claiming that which had been denied to female athletes for so long before Title IX. I was reminded that there is much good that comes with progress and the embrace of change.

DePaul won that hard-fought game against the favored Duke team and now advances to the 3rd round of the NCAA Tournament. And on this, the eve of their date to the Sweet 16, I find myself musing over the long season now drawing to its close…and contemplating the idea of success. With two victories (and counting!) in the Tournament and a sweep of both the Big East regular season and tournament championships it’s next to impossible not to feel pride and satisfaction – even exultation – in our team’s performance this year. And, naturally, our hopes are high that we can claim one more victory against yet another vaunted foe – this time Texas A and M.

But, do these accomplishments make up the essence of a successful season?

I’m afraid that if we focus only on our women’s won/loss record or set our sights solely upon a championship trophy, we’ll miss out on something important: the wisdom to be gained through sport and then applied throughout life. If we fail to see that game last Monday night – or any high profile athletic endeavor – for all the truth they hold out to us then we will cheat ourselves of rewards richer than any victory alone offers.

Success is a team endeavor. Before every basket there has to be a sharp-eyed pass or key defensive play or unselfish assist from others. There must be hours of scrimmaging that require commitment from every player on the team – lots of whom go unheralded – in order for starters to run 20 or 25 or 30 minutes up and down the floor before cheering fans. There must be years of support from families, teachers, coaches, advisors, administrators – and unknown others – before each and every athlete made it to that court in Durham, N.C.

Failure and disappointment are a part of athletics – they are a part of life. But they will not be wasted if we learn from them. If a loss makes us stronger, smarter, resolved to not make the same mistakes, more committed to our goals, more willing to seek help, more humble and compassionate – than it serves an important purpose.

As I prepare to leave for Lincoln, NE to watch in person the Blue Demons take on the Aggies, one more truth about our women’s team makes its presence known to me in a powerful way: I care about them. I care because I admire what they do. I care because we’ve shared moments of laughter or conversation or story-telling in the classroom or around campus or outside the gym. I care because in very simple ways we’ve developed relationships.

And, because of these relationships, I’ll want them to be at their best when they take the floor on Saturday night and I’ll feel a sting that will be somewhat out of proportion to the circumstances if they lose. In the final analysis perhaps that, too, is a life lesson we’re meant to learn: sport can break our hearts. But, then again, so can life.

Yet, we believe that isn’t all. For it is in taking a risk and allowing ourselves to be defeated and broken that we stand the greatest chance of encountering truth and grace and new life.

Tom Judge is a chaplain at DePaul University. Please feel free to leave a comment at the very bottom of this page.