Knowing and Loving All in All
Twenty Third Sunday of Ordinary Time (C) | Fr Simon Gaine sets out the priorities of human knowing and loving, focussing our attention on the final goal that makes us happy and fulfilled.
To live successfully and come to the true goal of our lives, we need to know the truth and to act on it. We need not only knowledge, but we also need the will to act, we need to love. We need all this because we are not simply animals, animals with brains, but animals with minds and wills. We are spiritual. So, without knowing and loving of the highest kind, the spiritual kind, we cannot be fulfilled, cannot be happy.
But something stands in our way. Our first reading, from the Book of Wisdom, asks whether we can know God’s intentions, whether we can know God’s will. But it’s a rhetorical question – the implied answer is No. No, we can’t. And we have good reasons to think this. God is infinite: how could we finite, limited creatures ever hope to know his will?
And our first reading points out that the thoughts of our minds can be unsure and the intentions of our hearts unstable. United as our human soul is to a mortal body, we can have little hope of discovering God’s will. Our knowledge is first of all directed to things of this world, and even on this score learning can be difficult. Though human knowledge of the things of this world has come an extraordinarily long way over the centuries, humanity is a still a long way off discovering the fulness of God’s will by its own lights.
Why, though, should any of this matter? Why do we earthly animals need to know the things of heaven? The answer is that we are made for heaven. We are made to learn about our world, our universe, and so to wonder what made it. And when we ask what made it, the desire for God is set in train, our hearts and minds on fire. We are made to want to know and so love the infinite God. Without knowing and loving God, we can never be happy, never be fulfilled. And yet it is more than that.
Because the Book of Wisdom does not leave us with the answer No, that we cannot know the will of God. It is true that we cannot know God’s full intention by our own lights. But there is something more. God has granted us his Wisdom and sent his Holy Spirit on us from above, our first reading tells us. That Wisdom gives us knowledge of God, and the Spirit inflames our hearts with love. The Book of Wisdom tells us that the paths of those on earth have been straightened. Wisdom has taught us what pleases God, and has saved us.
All this came to completion when the divine Wisdom took human flesh and walked among us as Jesus of Nazareth, taking the road to Jerusalem to save us. From his teaching and the teaching of his Church, we learn that we are called not just to know something about God’s will. Rather we are called to know God as he really is, called into the heavenly knowing and loving of God the Holy Trinity, in whom alone our minds and hearts will be satisfied. For this we need Jesus as our teacher now, and his Spirit to inflame our hearts.
We find this Jesus on the road in today’s Gospel, and he reveals something of the divine intention to us in his teaching. If we are truly to follow him on the road, we need to calculate what it will cost us. Only a fool, Jesus tells us, would enter into a project without first weighing up what it would cost. And what it will cost us is putting God first. And that makes perfect sense because God is first, he is the creator of all the good things we have. Because we know the realities of this world first, it is easy for us sinners to put these created realities, including other people who are so precious, especially those nearest to us, first. But if we are to follow the road to God through Christ, we must put him before father, mother, and all else that is of value to us.
Not that this means losing all good things altogether. In our second reading, we learn from St Paul how Philemon was to receive back his slave Onesimus, but not now as a slave but as a brother in Christ. And so we can receive back so many people and so many things in Christ, once we get everything in its right order, with God in Christ first at the head. Indeed we can potentially receive everyone back as fellow travellers on the way to God in Christ, if only we don’t stray from the path, and put God before all things as the one we love above all.
Photograph by Fr Lawrence Lew OP.