The Meaning of Life
|A pond that contained five turtles|
Today while walking around a park in Liberty, Missouri - at liberty in Liberty, as it were - praying by a pond in which five turtles swam, it suddenly all made sense to me.
First, let me back up.
Yesterday we prayed the Descent of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Today I was thinking about suggesting we reflect upon the immediate effect of that first outpouring of the Spirit.
Peter, formerly wavering and a bit dull, stands tall and preaches a tremendous call to conversion. Suddenly filled with the "breath of God", he proclaims, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:38)
Compare the first words of Jesus as He began His ministry ...
“The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1:15)
Now a lot has been said recently about Pope Francis' interview in which he suggested that instead of beating people over the head with the few sins that most Catholics focus on, we should instead approach our hearers with love. Love does not exclude a call to repentance. Far from it. But people reject us and withdraw into their shells like turtles, when they think we're approaching them with an agenda of use, and not merely reaching out to them in love.
You see, my point here is something I realized at that pond with those turtles. My point is this.
Most people do not understand what love is.
I mean that quite literally.
I have a friend who is a very difficult person to deal with. She responds to actual displays of concern or warmth with suspicion and anger - this, because of growing up in a home filled with abandonment and neglect. She once told me that one of the most memorable moments of her childhood was when a friend of the family admonished her not to run and play tag with her bruised foot, for fear she would get more seriously injured. "I had never heard anything like that from my parents," she said. "The way he called to me and it rang out - forceful and insistent ... out of worry and care for me!"
She is a special case. Most of us are not so starved for love that even a routine call to safety issued by an adult surprises us and sticks in our memories.
But how many young women are like Melissa, about whom I write here - mired in abusive relationships with men, thinking that being used by a guy means he loves you. And how many guys think money or booze or drugs or sex is the meaning of life, when the more they use, the more miserable they get?
Why don't "pro-choice" women want to hear about the evils of abortion? They don't understand that sacrificing your comfort for the sake of new life is a definition of love. Why don't homosexual men want to hear about the impossibility of "gay marriage" and the sick self-indulgence of the "gay" lifestyle? Because love means doing funky things with your private parts and doing it as much as you can - there is no connection between love and how we are designed, or between love and the family, in their eyes; and certainly no connection between love and self-restraint. Why don't 90 plus percent of your Catholic neighbors think that contraception is wrong? Because they don't see the marital act and openness to life as being the key to the heart of self-giving, which is love.
Our neighbors do not understand love. They do not understand that God's moral law flows from love; that the boundaries He sets for us are ways of making sure we can be more loving - by not killing, not stealing, not committing adultery, etc. For a nation confused about love, such normal and healthy prohibitions seem arbitrary and judgmental. Because most people do not understand the fullness of what love is. They look at a crucifix and see a superstitious religious symbol. They don't see what most of us do. They don't see love.
So when Christ begins His ministry by telling us to repent and when Peter emerges from the upper room, filled with the Holy Spirit, telling us to repent - we are shocked the way my friend was at hearing an adult call to her, a wayward child. We are not used to that tone of voice. We are stunned. And we may recoil - if we don't understand that they are calling out a warning ... in love.
So as we pray today, nearing the end of our Fifty Days of Prayer, let us meditate upon the central call of our vocation as Christians. Let us ponder what we are to do now that God's Spirit is living inside us and God's breath fills our lungs.
The meaning of our vocation - and the meaning of life - is love.
Whatever we do must be done in love. Neglect that and we fail, we become a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1). Operate from love, and the Spirit can work wonders.
And let us pray ...
To you, Immaculate Heart of Mary, we consecrate ourselves – our hearts, minds, wills and lives and all those works we undertake so they may be for the glory of God, for the sake of the Gospel and the salvation of souls. Holy Mother, our Queen and our Joy, give to our hearts the dimensions of yours and form us in the image of your beloved Son.