I felt adrift, unbalanced, and uncertain about my future goals not long after I graduated, and I can remember, with uncanny clarity, an hour of mass that re-taught me something I, as a new college graduate, had forgotten.
As I sat down in the pew for that mass, I recalled images of magnificent houses I had seen that weekend: off-white provincials with steep-pitched roofs, four-car garages, and slate-roof turrets; colonials caked in ivy, with dark shutters and third-floor dormers; and Stockbroker Tudors with brick-and-stucco facades and semicircular drives. I wondered what impressive, strategic, or stroke-of-luck lives those homeowners lived to afford even their property taxes. What prior decisions did they make to reap those benefits? How was I measuring up to their progress when they were my age?
The priest read the Parable of the Ten Virgins from the Gospel of Matthew. Five of the women waiting for a bridegroom miss His arrival, and also their own wedding feast, because they did not bring extra oil to fuel their lamps while waiting. The passage’s point: What is dividing your attention? What is drawing you away from what is most important?
The word lucrative echoed in my mind, as it often does. Had I made the right choice with my education, and was my decision to apply to law school the right next choice? I recalled the social media posts of college and high school friends announcing enrollment in masters and professional programs, seemingly at peace with their decisions. They were becoming impressive people, useful people, as I sought certainty about what came next, or the opportunity to ask these questions two years ago. Perhaps then I could have avoided the cacophony of doubts and second-guesses. Since graduating, I had often felt as though a starting pistol had commenced a race – against anyone or anything in my head – to achieve that life, that good life which sets one apart, that life with the house that people gawk at.
Every prayer of late sounded like that, and many still have after it: more a scramble of frustrations, an anxiety of inadequacy, a fixation on myself and my advancement, an analysis paralysis as I imagined what might be next for me. Every impressive house or dual-degreed individual, every person at peace with themselves and settled in their lives on social media, incited these thoughts.
The mass closed with a hymn I had never heard before. A poem by Charles Dickens, “Things That Never Die”:
“The pure, the bright, the beautiful
That stirred our hearts in youth,
The impulses to wordless prayer,
The streams of love and truth,
The longing after something lost,
The spirit’s yearning cry,
The striving after better hopes –
These things can never die.”
The words caught my attention like lamplight in the dimness, and my mind seemed to unclench for a moment. Listening to that hymn helped me feel something unfamiliar: like myself. It called all my overthinking out for what it was: an overreach, a lack of trust, a selfishness, a lamp dwindling. The questions were normal – especially as a recent college graduate – but not their constancy, vexing power, and the fearfulness that undercut my answers. Not the way they distracted me from faith, from trust, from things that never die.
I cannot say this experience at mass was utterly transformative, that I did, in fact, “sin no more” after it, so to speak; I am quite typical and neglectful of God in that sense, but I have not forgotten that mass or that hymn. Its stanzas come to mind frequently as I pray, work, write, and study for law school. They remind me that at that mass, I received the oil I was too distracted to bring myself and saw with more light than I had for some time.
Michael graduated summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English (double major in Catholic Studies) from DePaul University in 2019.
Currently, Michael is working as the Business Development & Marketing Coordinator at ADR Systems of America, LLC Michael is preparing for law school next year, and he has have been published in the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and Law360.