During the war I was on the last American ship to leave France, and we were arrested by a German submarine. We were given one hour to leave the ship. I was absolutely convinced I was going to die. Absolutely! And I had such an overwhelming experience. In a tenth of a hundredth of a second I saw my life in front of me in the greatest possible detail that you can imagine. It was unbelievable. What did I realize?
You know, our choices are sometimes very foolish, but God’s choices are always the best ones.
God has created each person for a purpose. He has his plan of love for you, for me, for everyone. The problem is that we make our own plans. We want them to be realized in a certain way and at a particular time. Then we get resentful when our plans don’t materialize. Yet, you have to come to a place in your life where you can say, “You, O Lord, you choose for me.”
Saint Teresa of Lisieux said something that has made an enormous impression on me: “I like best what God has chosen for me.” My goodness, what else do you really want? If God chooses that you should live a single life, you must say: This is what I like best.
You know, our choices are sometimes very foolish, but God’s choices are always the best ones. I mean, he chose my face! I didn’t choose my face. I could say to him, I don’t have your taste. Because there are people who are so beautiful you cannot help but say to yourself, I wish I were like that. But God knows what I would have done if I had been given a beautiful face. Everybody would see it, and I would have been put in terrible temptations – thinking of myself as some queen and believing that everything was due to me.
With physical beauty, it is too easy to fall in love with yourself, like the Greek shepherd Narcissus who saw his image. On this earth we have the face God has chosen for us, but I believe that in eternity you and I are going to have the face that we deserve. Every act of love, every act of virtue, of patience, and of selflessness chisels your face for eternity.
If you start with or look to human beings, sooner or later you’re going to be disappointed.
There is an enormous blessing in having faith, in trusting there is a God who has created you and loves you, in knowing that you have an immortal soul. Respect your soul. That is what matters. Whatever happens to you, say to yourself, “My God, it might not have been my choice, but it is your choice. And therefore I love it.” I believe that is the key to the meaning of life.
The moment you relate to God in this way, the moment you can truly thank him for your existence, and thank him for loving you, for being your Savior – only in this very moment can you begin to establish beautiful relationships with others. If you start with or look to human beings, sooner or later you’re going to be disappointed. Because we are all very, very imperfect beings. Only in God can you find the heart of another.
The beauty of celibacy is total dedication and love to God. This is why the apostle Paul places singleness above marriage. To be single, if you understand it deeply enough, is actually not to be single or alone at all. Each one of us, whoever we are, is made for communion.
When you embrace God’s will you will truly find others. You will also radiate peace and joy. This is something we don’t see in our society, but it is actually what everybody longs for. You see, once you radiate joy, sooner or later people are going to ask, “What is your secret?” And then gently, without preaching, without coming across as being superior or better, you can share your secret. After all, the meaning of the gospel is, “the happy message.” And indeed, that’s what it is!
Whatever your state, whatever your situation, whatever your purpose, always remember that you are made for joy.
Of course, in life there are moments of darkness. There are periods of discouragement. There are times when we lose sight of the beauty of the sky for all the clouds. You may have to bear severe sickness, or deal with tremendous pain, or you may be disappointed in this or that. But remember, whatever difficulty you have to face, it will not last. It is only a cloud. For God has made each of us with a purpose.
We are made for joy. But this joy can never be fully experienced here on earth. God’s joy is ultimately realized in eternity. To be a Christian is to understand that the cross, and the suffering of the cross, has meaning, and that suffering is part of our state on this earth. Don’t expect Paradise on earth. Don’t. But there is meaning, and this meaning is the love of God and gratitude for life on this earth. Whatever your state, whatever your situation, whatever your purpose, always remember that you are made for joy.
Dr. Alice von Hildebrand is a Catholic philosopher and theologian, and the widow of philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand. She taught philosophy at Hunter College and has written several books. This article is based on an interview by Vivian Warren, Emmy Maendel, and Erna Albertz.