30th Sunday of the Year. Fr Robert Verrill OP recommends against searching for meaning by sitting in front of the computer.
One of my great loves is playing the trumpet. It’s an instrument I began learning when I was nine years old, and I’ve been playing ever since. I was therefore rather intrigued to find an online video explaining how it is possible to play the trumpet through your nose. What you do is you use the trumpet mouthpiece to push your upper lip up towards one of your nostrils, you cover the other nostril with your finger, and then you blow through your nose, and with enough practise you can eventually produce a note.
Now I have to admit, this online video never actually inspired me to attempt to play the trumpet through my nose, partly because it looked extremely difficult, but mostly because it sounded absolutely awful.
In order to play the trumpet well, there are certain rules you have to follow – you have to blow through your mouth, you have to buzz your lips; when you see an F sharp on the page you have to press down the 2nd valve, and the list goes on and on.
But underlying all these rules is the most important rule of all, and that is to be musical. It is essential that any musician remembers this, because otherwise one can easily get bogged down with all the technical details and never end up with something that is pleasing to the ears.
Now when it comes to living lives that are pleasing to God, there are also lots of rules we have to follow. These include the ten commandments, but there are also many other such rules. But again, it is essential that we understand the most important rules of all that underlie all the others, and this is what Jesus gives us in today’s Gospel:
‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. And you must love your neighbour as yourself.’
If these two commandments are forgotten, then it is very easy to get bogged down with all the technicalities of the laws and regulations, and this is clearly what had happened to the Pharisees. After all, they put this question about the greatest commandment to Jesus in order to trip Him up, and this is hardly consistent with loving their neighbour, never mind loving the Son of God. So in the way they behaved, the Pharisees were obviously not following the two greatest commandments which Jesus spoke of.
But having said that, all those other laws which the Pharisees were able to follow weren’t in vain. For these laws helped to create the historical context in which the Son of God could become incarnate and redeem the world.
Now that this has been accomplished in Jesus Christ, the Law of Moses has been brought to its fulfilment. Thus, our redemption in Jesus Christ means that we can now live lives that are pleasing to God. This means that through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross, we are now capable of truly loving God and of loving our neighbour as ourselves. Ultimately, all the laws of the Church are there to guide our lives in the ways of loving God and neighbour.
It is very sad that so many people feel lost in the world, that there is so much loneliness and depression, that there is so much doubt about whether life has any meaning, whether God exists and whether He has a purpose for us. But we will only feel lost and suppose life is meaningless if we waste our lives doing meaningless things. We don’t discover the meaning of life by just sitting in our armchairs and abstractly wondering what the point of it all is. We are even less likely to discover the meaning of life if we spend all our spare time watching online videos of people doing ridiculous things. Rather, we discover the meaning of life by doing what Jesus tells us to do. Through our participation in the sacramental law of the Church, we participate in Christ’s sacrificial love. His sacrifice is literally a “holy doing”. And since Christ has poured out His life for us in this sacrifice, we can pour out our lives for each other in loving service.
We can’t be commanded to love just anything, but we can be commanded to love God and our neighbour. And this is because to love God and our neighbour is the ultimate purpose for which everyone of us was made.