KERNS: Another journey commences



Bryan Kerns

The moral philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre once wrote, “The unity of a human life is the unity of a narrative quest.” MacIntyre’s point is this: what is life without a destination? Essentially, every life needs to have something to which it aspires.

Philosophy calls this teleology – the rest of us call it an end or a purpose. In 17 days, the Class of ’08 will be stricken from the rolls of the University Registrar and declared graduates. In 17 days, one portion of their journey will come to a close and another will begin. So, what is their teleology? What is their end? What is their purpose?

I know seniors heading to law school at Georgetown and Boston College and to medical school at Jefferson Medical College. I know seniors who have taken offers with major Wall Street firms like Goldman Sachs and Merrill Lynch. I know a senior who will be teaching for the Alliance for Catholic Education in Washington D.C. after a summer of classes at the University of Notre Dame. I know a senior who will be teaching at one of the local Catholic elementary schools. I know a senior headed off to the Augustinian Volunteers in San Diego and one with the Vincentian Volunteers in San Francisco.

I can say that these seniors have a sense of their destination or that they’re trying things out and looking for ways to figure out that destination. Their decisions have been made clearly and in some cases, after great deliberation and restlessness.

There’s that word again – restlessness. It’s perfect for an Augustinian university, since in many ways, it defines Augustine’s life. Many seniors are restless in their pursuit of purpose. It’s a common, simple question for all of us, but the answer is often tremendously complex. The notion of restlessness is a part of the human condition, which is something that no one can call anything less than complex.

The real question, the one that imbues its answers with meaning regardless of their content, is: can you convert that restlessness into purposefulness in life?

Augustine certainly did. He wrote his Rule and decided to live a life of simplicity in union with God. He was called to be a priest and bishop and did so to the best of his ability. All the while, he was restless. The restlessness never ceased. It was his search for a purpose and his eventually finding it that gave his life its narrative unity.

Now, that’s not to say that if your life doesn’t have a defined purpose today, you’re worthless. In fact, it’s quite the contrary. It’s something that will take years to bear out. The restlessness that comes from that search is what makes life interesting. If you aren’t struggling or searching, where’s the fun?

If you don’t know what you’re doing 30 years from now, don’t worry; you’re not alone. Augustine didn’t know what he was doing three days from now, never mind three decades from now. If you haven’t found what you think is your life’s destination, you are certainly not among the few – there are plenty of people twice your age who still don’t know what they want to do with their life and they’re often pretty interesting. The key is not to stop searching. Don’t stop being restless.

To close off his discussion of the quest, MacIntyre wrote, “A quest is always an education both as to the character of that which is sought and in self-knowledge.”

So, as you’re searching, you’re going to learn a lot about what you’re searching for and about yourself. In that sense, you’re about to embark on a truly Augustinian journey.

So, members of the Class of ’08, as you prepare to begin the search for your destination or start out on the road to what you think it is, keep in mind that you don’t need all the answers today or even 17 days from now. As MacIntyre said, “The unity of a human life is the unity of a narrative quest.”

If MacIntyre is right, that life you lead could make a pretty good book some day. I’ll certainly read it. Farewell.


Bryan Kerns is a freshman honors and humanities major from Drexel Hill, Pa. He can be reached at [email protected].