Faith Stories: Carpe Diem, Carpe DEUM!
In my Latin classes at Southeastern Louisiana University, I try earnestly to make this dead, ancient language relevant to the lives of my students. The English language is filled with smatterings of phrases that come to us directly from the Latin, and educated people are generally expected to have at least an acquaintance with the meaning of the terms.
Just think briefly about legal terms we hear daily, as well as literary terms that swim around our pages and conversations. We form ad hoc committees, had a mayor pro tem, tour ante bellum homes, read of pleas of nolo contendere and writs of habeas corpus, have cum laude graduates, and pros and cons and even non sequiturs during debates. I could go on ad infinitum. But I won’t! So it is my habit when introducing a new term or phrase to ask the students if they know it or can place it in some context.
One day I put “carpe diem” on the blackboard. Carpe diem translates “seize the day.” It is a phrase from a work by the venerated Latin poet Horace, in which he is pleading with his readers to take advantage of each day, to live one day at a time, to make the most of the time we are given. A modern rephrasing might be: “today is the first day of the rest of your life.” Carpe diem is very often found on sun dials, to remind us of the transient nature of time itself.
Anyway, one student very hesitantly raised his hand and with a question in his voice translated “seize God?” Admittedly, the Latin for day and god are somewhat similar – diem and deum. I could easily see the source of the student’s error. But I stood dumbfounded for a few seconds thinking how profound that mistranslated thought was and how very much I liked it.
Carpe diem! Indeed, we need to live each day of our lives fully, for that is all we have. Tomorrow is never promised. And for followers of Christ, living fully means living out our savior’s love in every possible moment. Life itself often gets in the way of living fully in the awareness of God’s love and care. Illness, grief, loss of a job, problems in a relationship, financial concerns — all of these worries can consume our thoughts, dominate our days and steal our nights. These worries rob us of the peace that Christ offers.
In Matthew 6, Jesus tells us “…do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.” When we worry and fret, we often miss the blessings and glimpses of light that come our way because our focus is on our problems.
God has plans for us. At the right moment, we will burst into a new situation, a new possibility, a new hope. In the meantime, I am going to practice that carpe diem idea — seize the day — but I’m also going to follow my student’s unintended mistake that has become such a blessing. I plan to practice carpe Deum as well — take hold of God as I wait patiently and attentively for the next chapter in my life. I know it will come. God is always up to something!
Prayer: God of all our days and nights, all we have for certain is this day. Give us the wisdom to live it with enthusiasm and joy in service to you. Amen.