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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Myth of Sisyphus

The Myth of Sisyphus

          I remember as a sophomore in college, in a philosophy class, we were asked to write whether we thought the Myth of Sisyphus was an accurate description of life.
          In Greek mythology, Sisyphus is a king who was punished by being forced to push a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down once he reached the top.  He was condemned to repeat this pointless action day after day after day.  It is meant to demonstrate the absurdity of life.
          Well, even as poorly formed as I was then, I recognized that the Myth of Sisyphus in no way relates to a Christian understanding of life.  For one thing, it does not take into account the reality of love. Read the quote by Blessed John Paul II under the title of this blog.  The reality of love, and our participation in it, means life can never be absurd.
          And, of course, there is the source of all love: God.  Every moment is an opportunity to grow in our relationship with Him, to become more like Him, and therefore to grow in love.  There is also the reality of Heaven.  Life is not simply one meaningless day after another.  It is a journey to an incredible Destination.  We are not standing still in repetitive existence; we are going somewhere.
          Most Christians would not see in the Myth of Sisyphus any true analogy for life, though in our weakness we may feel occasionally like it is.  I do suspect, though, that some of us may see in the realm of our work, the daily toil at our jobs, something of the experience of Sisyphus.
          This is an easy trap to fall into, and an unfortunate one.  It takes effort and intention to break free of it.  Father Bill Casey tells a story that relates.
          A man walks down a street in the middle ages and sees three stone cutters working on giant boulders.  He stops and asks the first, “What are you doing?”
          “What does it look like I’m doing?  I’m chipping away at this stone!”
          He goes on to the second and asks, “What are you doing?”
          “What does it look like I’m doing?  I’m working.  I’m providing for the needs of my family.”
          He moves on a little more and asks the third, “What are you doing?”
          “What does it look like I’m doing?  I’m building a great cathedral.  It will be the center of this town for hundreds of years.  The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass will be offered here.  People will come here to be baptized, to marry, and to be commended to God when they die.”
          All three stone cutters were doing the same thing, but they had very different perspectives that greatly affected how much they felt like Sisyphus.  The first could not see beyond what was right in front of him.  The second saw a higher purpose, and found more meaning in what he was doing.  The third, however, saw the whole picture, and he found true joy in his work.
          St. Josemaria Escriva, the founder of Opus Dei, taught, among other things, that men should turn their work into prayer, into the “work of God.”  We may not be building cathedrals, and our jobs may at times be menial and devoid of appreciation, but they are opportunities to serve God.
          When we do our best, and give an honest day’s labor, we can offer that to God.  We can do it for Him, and allow our work to transform us into great saints, no matter what it is.  Mother Teresa reminded us that it is not what we do that makes us saints, but with how much love we do it.
          One final story on this thought.  True or not, I’m not sure, but I don’t think it matters.  It seems that during the Second Vatican Council, Archbishop Fulton Sheen was in Rome to attend.  He was not a cardinal, of course, but many observers and theologians were present.  Outside his hotel was a street sweeper that he saw every day, and who seemed to do his work with immense joy.
          Bishop Sheen asked him one day, “Tell me, what makes you so happy as you work?”
          The street sweeper responded, “You are a bishop, are you not?  And you are here for the council?  Very important.  But if I do my work with more love than you do yours, I will be the more pleasing to God.”
          “Very good, my son.”
          May our work be a prayer, make us pleasing to God, and help us to become saints.