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  • Reverend James Squire

Questions and Answers

Updated: Feb 12, 2021

I read an article that included this story about Johnny Majors who coached the Pitt Panthers Football Team in the 1970s and 80s. He went to meet with the press after his team was defeated by a lot by Virginia Tech. He was not having a very good season but he did as he always did and went to meet the press at his press conference. He asked the reporters, “Do you have any questions?” No one responded immediately. You can tell that this was not a Philadelphia Press Conference as every sports writer knows exactly what is wrong about every team even when they weren't playing during the Pandemic. When no one was responding, he asked, “Do you have any answers?”

During difficult times we always want to get both the questions and the answers right.

One of the quotations from the German poet and novelist, Maria Ranier Rilke has been one of the guiding principles for me in my life. He wrote in 1934 in his book, Letters to a Young Man, “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart. And try to love the questions themselves. Do not seek the answers that cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”

I taught Ethics for 38 years so getting the questions right was as important as the answers.

Rilke’s insight implies that there is a right time to raise a particular question so that you would be able to experience it. We have a “readiness” factor in learning. You may wish that a 10 years old child should learn calculus, but that will not happen for the vast majority of children. They just aren’t ready to take that subject on.

As a priest who has spent a good deal of time with people who are dying, I can tell you some of the most important questions in life and death are raised by the person who is dying, their family, or their close friends. Daryl Sifford, an Inquirer columnist at the time, said that “Nobody who is dying says that they should have spent more time at the office.” The essential questions are raised and spoken or thought in those final hours and minutes.

Gertrude Stein found herself in this position in the final moments of her life. She was an American playwright, poet, and novelist who moved to France until her death influencing people such as Hemingway and Picasso. It is reported that on her death bed as she pondered the meaning of her life she asked: “What is the answer?’ (then silence) In that case, what is the question?’ All of us may have questions that go to the depth of our soul. Sometimes they are vague notions that become concrete and real as we experience the ups and downs in life.

I want to suggest an exercise that may help you reach deeper into who you are, what you have always been, and who you will always be. These are the eternal questions. Some occur in our last days. Some occur all the days of our lives. Assuming that you believe in God for this exercise, what are the three questions that you want to ask him/her? Of the three, which is the most important? I have my three. What are yours? These are the eternal questions that can help us live a fuller life because they just may lead to helpful action for you, me, and others as we live. They are like the light that can lead us through a darken room.

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