The readings for the 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time are a hymn to the culture of life: even life with all the trials and pain, and limits, and hardships that our human frailty imposes on us. This is possible because Christ lives forever to make intercessions for us (Hebrews 7: 25), before the Father, the source of all life, so that we, too, may join in a continuous celebration of life. The reading from the Book of Deuteronomy (6:2-6) shows us how we can join God’s people in a full celebration of life and in the Gospel of Mark (12:28-34), Jesus, the Teacher par excellence, teaches about the genuine celebration of life in such an exhaustive way that no one can possibly take exception and still consider himself/herself a disciple of his.
We must keep in mind that no individual is the center of life but simply a recipient of life from its source: our Creator God. For this reason, our celebration of life, to be properly done, must be rooted in the Absolute, in God, recognized as our Creator, lawgiver and final destiny. Consequently, the proper celebration of life involves our total self: all our heart, all our soul, all our strength in a complete and joyous surrender to God.
Historically, the people of Israel, the people the Lord had chosen to be His very own, understood this all too well; in the sense that, in their effort to be anchored totally in God and to love Him completely, they had multiplied His precepts so much, (613 precepts to be exact) by the time Jesus walked the streets of Palestine, that there was a lot of confusion. This explains why a scribe, one of the experts of the law, demanded a much needed simplification from him. “Which is the first of all the commandments?”
The answer that Jesus gave him was precise, liberating, clear, correct, but also radically new. In the same breath Jesus turns two commandments: (love of God and love of neighbor) into one—from 613 to only one!
Today, as Jesus indicates to us how we are called to celebrate life by loving God with the totality of our self, energies, heart, inner disposition, drives, and by loving our neighbor as ourselves, he is giving us the direction that our life must take to be a joyous celebration. Yet, as his disciples, we still feel the pull one way and the other: towards life and towards disengagement.
On one side, disengagement from joining in the celebration of life as taught by Jesus is always there lurking and enticing, ready to cater to our selfishness, aloofness and fears. We would like to let our priests, deacons and bishops do the work of reaching out and inviting others to join in the celebration of life. On the other, no matter how much we would like to remain disengaged, we realize that we, too, cannot miss out on life and, thus, need a “missionary conversion” that would propel us to unleash the Gospel within our diocese. The deciding factor in our “missionary conversion” and subsequent vocation to full and active discipleship might be the painful realization that our bishops and priests have lost credibility, in the wake of the horrific and tragic sex abuse scandals and cowardly cover ups.
Our way of celebrating life and of living out that celebration as disciples of Christ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices, i.e., a way of celebrating life that gives meaning and substance also to our worship in addition to offering others within our diocese an example of how to implement the essentials of our Christian Faith. The proper way indicated by Jesus to celebrate life by loving God with our all heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbor as ourselves, is the Eucharist.
Our missionary conversion leading us to unleash the Gospel through an eloquent example of Christian living is best expressed by becoming Eucharistic people. These two commandments, as I said, are now one because God has become flesh in Jesus Christ. During the first Eucharist in the Upper Room, Jesus gave us the essentials of true worship, the core of the Gospel and the true way of celebrating life: “I give you a new commandment:love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.(John 13:34)
Our way of worshipping most acceptable to God, our celebration of life and our unleashing of the Gospel are done by living out the New Commandment, daily. Yes, it is done by becoming “Eucharistic people.” In the Eucharist and through the Eucharist, we show that our commitment to a celebration of life and our preaching is so all-encompassing and so all-consuming that it makes us willing to love our God incarnate in our brothers and sisters to the point of total self-sacrifice.
Our preaching with our life would be obvious to everyone we meet and backed up by our willingness to be broken as the Body of Christ is broken for us in the Eucharist and our willingness to be poured out for others as the Blood of Christ is poured out for us.
This is the secret of how our unleashing to the Gospel will be most effective and we will not be far from the Kingdom of God!