Some years back, there was a guy from Chicago who took the sign from Chevron Gas Company literally. The sign said, "As you travel, ask us." So, whenever he pulled into a Chevron station, he would look to the sign and say, "I’m a traveler. I’d like to ask you a question. What is the purpose of life?" He got several answers from attendants like, "Sorry. I’m new here" or "I don’t remember anything in the gasoline manual about that."
One day he got a phone call from Chevron Customer Relations saying, "We understand you’ve been asking our dealer questions and getting unsatisfactory answers." They suggested to him that he should write out his question and send it to their main office with a self-addressed stamped envelope. So he wrote six words, "What is the purpose of life?" and sent it to the company. A couple of weeks later, he found his self addressed, stamped envelope in his mailbox. He was excited to say the least. Someone at Chevron finally answered his question, he thought. When he opened the letter, there was nothing in it but an application for a credit card!
At some point in our lives like the scribe in today's Gospel, we had asked the same question or variations of it: Why am I here on earth? After this life, then what's next? The scribe, who knew that the Torah is populated by numerous laws and regulations, wanted to make sure that he is on the right track so he asked Jesus, "What is the greatest commandment?"
Love is the greatest commandment, Jesus must have said. But then, it sounded too generic. So he added, Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
One of the things we can never do in this life is to impose conditions on love. Another thing we can never do is to legislate it. Love can never be passed into law. But the commandment to love, which is not written in stones and monuments but is carved in human hearts, has something to do with seeing God. If we have to know who God is, if we want to know the meaning of life, we should learn how to love.
Loving God with all our heart and mind demands our undivided attention. When it comes to God, attention is tough to find. It is not that we are deaf or absent-minded. It is just the fact that our waking hours are cluttered with various appointments, meetings and needs that squeezing in a few minutes for God can be difficult. Distractions come our way from several corners preventing us from listening to God. We sometimes hear discordant voices whispering varied means of attaining happiness only to realize that most of these voices are but empty whispers.
Loving God with all our soul demands complete fidelity to Him. It means not selling our souls for a fleeting satisfaction. It means detaching ourselves from the crippling ties of addiction, obsession and dependency to substances beyond our control, to shows and TV programs beyond human decency, to lifestyles beyond human dignity.
Loving God with all our strength requires loving him with a passion. God does not want to be ignored and he wants a response. God wants more than what we do in Church on Sundays. Attending church does not make one religious. Reciting the creed does not make one a Christian. Just receiving the Eucharist does not make one a Catholic. Coming to Church and going through the motions is not enough if there is no passionate love for God. What makes the difference is the level of commitment we have for God. He needs us to have a relationship with Him during the seven days of our week, 24 hours of our day.
Despite the demands for loving God with all our strength, mind, soul and everything, the response of Jesus did not end there. If we have to love God, He said, we also have to show it by loving those around us. It means loving especially the unlovable.
Some of the most unlovely people we knew who had sharp edges got that way because they thought that nobody liked them or nobody cared for them. Sadly, our society is growing more cynical every day. People are disillusioned and have become apathetic. The opposite of love is not hatred, but apathy and indifference. There was a Peanuts cartoon in which Charlie Brown was talking to Lucy. He remarked about the tragedy of so much apathy in the world today. Lucy responded, "Yeah, it’s terrible. But who cares?"
The world smiles when it witnesses love being shared between friends and among families. The world is moved when it beholds love for those who suffer, for those who had fallen, for those who fizzled, flopped and folded. The world is impressed when we love those who succeeded where we failed, when we rejoice without envy or jealousy to those who have lives better than we do. But when we love those who are not deserving of our love, those who are not good to us, those who bring us enough misery and pain, that kind of love makes everything stop. That kind of love makes the world go round because that is God's love. That is the way God loves.
The answer to our meaning and significance in this world can be found in Jesus who manifested what loving really means. When our hearts feel what our minds could not comprehend, when our strength becomes one with our spirits yearning for God in different ways, when love finds its meaning and worth in what we had done for God and for others, when that time eventually happens, we will not be far from the kingdom of God.
5 November 2006