Is it Even in English?
Those were the words on my mind as I began deliberating what I would be giving up/doing for Lent this year.
I said those words as I got the bad grade on the test that I’d studied so hard for.
Those words came to mind as I stood with the fifty or so others that showed up in the Mission Church at 7:30 in order to receive their ashes from Father Engh. As he preached on “going the extra mile on the Lenten journey”, these words sprung to my mind over and over again.
“So, what exactly does that mean?” my friends ask me whenever I try to explain the concept of Status Viatoris. “Is it English?” The phrase (which is definitely not English, but Latin) roughly translates to “state of the journey.” Beyond that, it means “being on the way”, the point where believers have already left for our destination, but it still lies on the horizon, for we have a long way to go before we reach it. Status Viatoris is a term that originates from the German Catholic philosopher Josef Pieper, who defined it in the following passage in opposition to another state—the Status Comprehenis (the condition of having “grasped”.)
“One who has comprehended, encompassed, arrived, is no longer a viator, but a comprehensor…To be on the way, to be a viator, means to be making progress towards eternal happiness; to have encompassed this goal, to be a comprehensor, means to possess beatitude.”
This concept, while abstract, actually sums up our journey as Christians on this Earth quite well. It feels constantly as though we are moving between two extremes. There’s the extreme of presuming that God’s already sorted everything out and we don’t have too much of a role to play in affairs—that the world is, in essence, good at the end of the day. As an example of this, I quote a sitting US Senator, who when asked to explain why climate change was a nonsensical concept, said:
“God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beungs, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.”
On the other end of the extreme of presumption is the extreme of despair. People on this end believe that not only has God not come yet, but that He never will. This world is doomed to its own sins, to the chaos in the Middle East, to an eroding environment, and to the systematic enslavements of human trafficking. “How,” people wonder (and with good reason), “could a Just God allow such atrocities to occur?”
If you’re reading this blog post and thinking I’m about to explain the problem of evil, I’m sorry. They don’t pay me enough for that. But seriously, at the end of the day, I DON’T KNOW. And that’s what’s beautiful!
I recognize this not as ignorance of a question that will one day be answered, but rather as my own Status Viatoris. I cannot know God, and there is a true sense of liberation in admitting that. It means that I’m not cocky enough to explain how God works in this world, but at the same time I don’t despair with unanswered questions about God. They’ll come in time, but until then, it’s just a matter of remembering that I’m on the way. This attitude, it turns out, is a great one to consistently have day-in and day-out.
If I get a bad grade, I’m still on the way as far as school goes.
If I get rejected from a job, I’m still on the way for my future.
If God doesn’t come yet, we’re all still “on the way” as Christians.
This is what I ask, if you want to join me this Lent. We think of these forty days as a “journey” and use that term often to describe the season. Now, I ask you this, can you envision these forty days as a practice for the larger Status Viatoris? Try to see this small journey as but one small piece of the greater journey to come. I have a feeling you’ll smile to yourself when you look at the scope of it all and see what lies upon the horizon.