Sunday, November 05, 2006

The Secret of Life

(31st Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B;This homily was given 5 November, 2006, at Our Lady of Mercy, East Greenwich, R.I.; read Deuteronomy 6:2-6 and Mark 12:28-34)

What do you think is the “secret of life”? Is it hard work? Loyalty? Is it family? Scientists tell us the “secret of life” is found in DNA; if we can understand DNA then we can unlock the great mystery of life itself.

If you are a Country Music fan then you have probably heard the popular song by Faith Hill called “The Secret of Life.” It is about two guys sitting down at a bar looking for the answer to that question. They come up with all kinds of possible solutions: The secret of life is . . .

A good cup of coffee
'Keep your eye on the ball'
Monday Night Football

I kind of lean towards that last one, truth be told! But for a pious Jew in Jesus’ time, the “secret of life” could be found nowhere else but in the Law of God, in the commandments God had given to the people of Israel through Moses on Mt. Sinai. Therein, the devout Jew would say, lies the secret of life.

But the question of the day would be: Which one? There were 613 different commandments in the Torah. It was a commonly debated question, which one of these was the greatest. Any Rabbi worth his salt would have a strong opinion on that topic. And so the Scribe approaches Jesus in the Gospel this morning and asks Him: What do you think?

Which is the first of all the commandments?
—Mark 12:28

Typically, Jesus answers that question very differently than they expected. He offers a very traditional answer and an entirely new one, at the same time. Jesus begins His response by reciting the Shema.

The Shema is one of the core professions of the Jewish faith, and we heard it this morning in our First Reading from the Book of Deuteronomy. Shema is the Hebrew word for “Listen!” or “Hear!” and Jesus recites the Shema word for word when He says:

Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God, is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.
—Mark 12:29-30; (cf. Deuteronomy 6:4-5)

It was a very traditional response that most Jews would have agreed with. The Shema was recited by devout Jews three times as day. They would write it out and wear it on their garments, or place it in small boxes on the doorway of their home to remind them—each time they came and went—of the great commandment to love God.

But Christ also adds a second commandment, so they will understand that the way of life God calls us to cannot be easily summarized in just one passage of Scripture or just one of the commandments. He says that:

The second is this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
—Mark 12:31

In that is the novelty or the nuance that Christ offers, His own particular contribution to the question about the greatest commandment. He combines the two commandments—love of God and love of neighbor—as one, linking them both together with the single word: love. To love both God and neighbor is greater than all the other commandments (Mark 12:31).

But with all that said, Christ is not simply the greatest Rabbi of His day providing the best teaching. He is not even the greatest teacher among all the other teachers or the apex of all the other religions. He is not even in that category. He transcends all categories.

Jesus Christ is Lord of Israel and Lord of all precisely because He not only gives us the law and the commandment to love God and love neighbor, but because He is the only one who truly lives it. Christ is the only one to live fully the love of God and love of neighbor, and in that is found the Secret of Life!

The Secret of Life is Jesus Christ, God made man, who comes down from heaven to dwell among us and teaches us how to live and how to love. Jesus Christ is the one who loves God to the fullest, giving His life to the father in the obedience of love, even to the point of death on the cross. Jesus Christ is the one who loves neighbor to the fullest possible extent by sacrificing Himself on the cross for the salvation of us all.

That is the secret of life: to give oneself away—to offer oneself as a gift—and in that to be fulfilled and complete.

Christ invites every one of us to participate in that secret of life by participating in His own life through baptism. By our baptism into Christ the Holy Spirit lives in us and helps us to live the commandments of love.

St. Paul, in his letter to the Colossians, talks about the great mystery and the secret of life, and he says it is:

. . . the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past. But now it has been manifested to his holy ones, to whom God chose to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; it is Christ in you, the hope for glory.
—Colossians 1:26-27

Christ lives in us. The Holy Spirit lives in us. We now have the ability to live out the commandment of love—to love God and neighbor—like Christ Himself because He lives in us. As overwhelming and supernatural as that sounds, we do it in a very practical way: by the things we say and by what we do each and every day.

There was a story in The New York Post just a few weeks ago about a man who was caught trying to jump off the Empire State Building with a parachute. He was arrested and charged with reckless endangerment. Of course, he pleaded innocent. His lawyer went before the court and declared that his client was innocent because he was simply “expressing himself.”

The judge asked for an explanation, and the lawyer went on to say that, “some people express themselves with words. My client expresses himself with actions.” The article did not give the outcome of the case, but we can guess what it probably was!

But that is an example of what God asks of each one of us. Not that we jump off the Empire State Building with a parachute! But that we express ourselves, that we express our love for Him and our neighbor, with words and actions. Both are necessary. What are some of the ways God is challenging us to love him and other with our words and actions this week?

What are the words God is moving us to pray in conversation with Him? Have we asked God to become more a part of our lives, more a part of our families, our workplace? Have we asked Him to make us a better father or a better mother? A better son or daughter, husband or wife? Have we spent time with Him in prayer? That is how we love God with our words.

With our neighbor, we use words to encourage, to build up; perhaps we use words to challenge each other to live the Gospel more faithfully.

And finally, we accompany our words with the actions that speak that same message. In a very practical way, we respond to the needs around us. St. Augustine was once asked, “What does love look like? You always speak about love; you write about it. But what does love look like?” He responded:

It has feet to go to the poor and needy.
It has eyes to see misery and want.
It has ears to hear the sighs and the sorrows of others.

This week we ask God for the grace to love Him and our neighbor with our words and actions. And as we do that in the everyday practice of our faith, may we enter more deeply into the very secret of life, what St. Paul says is: “Christ in you, the hope of glory.”