The Precious Gift of Precariousness

This week's reflection is written by
Mr. Joseph McDaniel, OSFS, seminarian.

Precariousness can be defined as a state that includes a sense of insecurity, uncertainty, and instability. A brief glance at the news over recent weeks would definitely instill a sense of precariousness on various fronts: Natural disasters, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and fires, that have occurred with alarming frequency; social and political discord that has stretched many of the seams of American society; threats of nuclear proliferation on the global stage that continue to confound politicians and diplomats in their search for a just and secure solution.

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Instinctive reactions to this precariousness could include the urge to retreat into social or individual niches where we are secure from having to confront the uncertainties which abound in the world around us. We could become angry at our own frustrating lack of control over situations so much greater than ourselves. Seemingly perched on precipices that appear to surround us on all sides, we may be left with a feeling of intense loneliness, our quiet voices of reason getting lost in the echo-chambers of chaos. 

Thankfully, we can take some consolation in that we are in fact not the only ones who have had to reckon with our precarious existence; the realization of the fragility of our situation is a shared human experience. Classical philosophers and spiritual writers called this an awareness of our own contingency. Although often evoked in situations that seem dire, they saw that awareness of our contingency can also give rise to a response of gratitude and loving action. While there are many possibilities of things that could go wrong, we should also remember the many possibilities that needed to be fulfilled in order for things to have gone right.

In the Introduction to the Devout Life, Francis de Sales writes that we were called by God out of nothing, not just into mere existence, but to abundant life shared with God and others. God does not just do this by sheer authority, but asks for the cooperation of the human family. Our experiences of life, of the goodness and beauty to still to be found in it, are not the result only of a choice made by God, but of the choices made and possibilities fulfilled by others. This is meant to evoke in us a sense of gratitude and also mission to make abundant life possible for other people. 

Being called into life by God not just an individual matter, it is essentially a communal one. The original Geek word for “Church,” ekklesia, means “to be called out from.” In a world where confusion is all too apparent, we are called together to continue bringing light from darkness, hope from fear, life from the throes of death. The recognition of our precariousness leads not to despair, but to an optimism that we can continue to work to fulfill the many possibilities for good that exist in our world.