subscribe: Posts | Comments

Lives Driven by Meaning and Purpose



Homily for the 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time

The audio podcast will be posted on Sunday afternoon

This Sunday’s gospel passage concludes Chapter Thirteen of Saint Matthew’s Gospel. Seated on a boat anchored off shore on the Sea of Galilee sometimes called Lake Gennesaret or Lake Tiberius, and facing the people standing on the beach, Jesus preaches seven parables on the kingdom.

Saint Mathew’s Gospel is comprised of seven different parables.  For this reason this chapter is usually called the parable discourse.  Because the subject matter and themes are similar, the parables are called the kingdom parables.

As we have seen already, Jesus’ parables are very effective.  By drawing on the ordinary routines of daily life, he sheds light on the deepest supernatural mysteries.

Two weeks ago we focused our reflection on free will.  Last week we considered the mystery of evil.  This week we will consider the meaning of our lives.

The purpose of man’s existence is the first lesson of the Baltimore Catechism.  The children’s Catechism explains that to know, love and serve God and to be happy with him for all eternity in heaven is the purpose of our existence here on earth.

However, many people see no meaning in their lives.

Comedian Billy Crystal typified this mindset in a film in which he plays the part of a bored baby boomer who makes his living selling radio advertising time. On the day when he visits his son’s school to talk about his work along with other fathers, he suddenly lets loose a rather cynical monologue to the kids in the class:

“Value this time in your life, kids, because this is the time in your life when you still have your choices. It goes by fast.

When you’re a teenager, you think you can do anything and you do. Your twenties are a blur.

Thirties you raise your family, you make a little money, and you think to yourself, “What happened to my twenties?”

Forties, you grow a little pot belly, you grow another chin. The music starts to get too loud; one of your old girlfriends from high school becomes a grandmother.

Fifties, you have a minor surgery — you’ll call it a procedure, but it’s a surgery.

Sixties, you’ll have a major surgery, the music is still loud, but it doesn’t matter because you can’t hear it anyway.

Seventies, you and the wife retire to Fort Lauderdale. You start eating dinner at 2:00 in the afternoon, you have lunch around 10:00, breakfast the night before, spend most of your time wandering around malls looking for the ultimate soft yogurt and muttering, “How come the kids don’t call? How come the kids don’t call?”

The eighties, you’ll have a major stroke, and you end up babbling with some Jamaican nurse who your wife can’t stand, but who you call mama.

Any questions?”

We need to reflect upon the fundamental questions of human existence.  Who am I?  What is the purpose of life?  What happens when this life comes to an end?

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure buried in a field, which a person finds and hides again, and out of joy goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant searching for fine pearls.  When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.  Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net thrown into the sea, which collects fish of every kind.  When it is full they haul it ashore and sit down to put what is good into buckets” (Matthew 13: 44 – 49).

The treasure, the pearl and the good fish must not be a car, a passion for sports and entertainment, money, pleasure, or the next golf tournament. Is the salvation of your soul worth more than the house that you live in, the school that your children attend, the size of your portfolio, or the car that you drive?

King Solomon, as we read in this Sunday’s first reading, could have had all the power and pleasures that this life offers.  Instead, he knew how to find meaning in life, to establish a hierarchy of values and to identify his priorities in the things of eternity. 

“Because you have asked for this – not for a long life for yourself, nor for riches, nor for the life of your enemies, but for understanding so that you may know what is right – I do as you requested.  I give you a heart so wise and understanding that there has never been anyone like you up to now, and after you there will come no one to equal you”  (1 Kings 3: 11-12).

This Sunday’s liturgy speaks to us about the purpose of our lives and the importance of maintaining a correct hierarchy of values.

Ongoing news events indicate that most of the world acts as if God does not exist and that there are no eternal consequences for our actions.

Homosexuality, abortion, wars and violence afford vivid manifestations of a world that has lost its direction.   Life is the fruit of meaning.  Death results when meaning is lost.

When Jewish psychiatrist Victor Frankl was arrested by the Nazis in World War II, he was stripped of all of his personal possessions.  He had spent years researching and writing a book on the importance of finding meaning in life–concepts that would later  become known as logotherapy. When he arrived in Auschwitz, the infamous death camp, even the manuscript hidden in the lining of his coat was taken away.

“I had to undergo and overcome the loss of my spiritual child,” Frankl wrote. “Now it seemed as if nothing and no one would survive me; neither a physical nor a spiritual child of my own! I found myself confronted with the question of whether under such circumstances my life was ultimately void of any meaning.”

He was still wrestling with that question a few days later when the Nazis forced the prisoners to give up their clothes.

“I had to surrender my clothes and in turn inherited the worn-out rags of an inmate who had been sent to the gas chamber,” said Frankl. “Instead of the many pages of my manuscript, I found in the pocket of the newly acquired coat a single page torn out of a Hebrew prayer book, which contained the main Jewish prayer, Shema Yisrael (Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one God. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.)

“How should I have interpreted such a ‘coincidence’ other than as a challenge to live my thoughts instead of merely putting them on paper?”

Later, as Frankl reflected on his ordeal, he wrote in his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, “There is nothing in the world that would so effectively help one to survive even the worst conditions, as the knowledge that there is a meaning in one’s life . . .’He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.'”

Thornton Wilder’s famous novel, The Bridge of San Luis Rey, ends with these words: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

Love is the why.

In a world torn apart by war, violence, hatred, confusion and chaos, we all need to be ambassadors of God’s love for humanity.

We need to show the world that love is possible.

We need to show the world that we believe in love!

I would suffocate and die if I could not live each day in love.

How absurd it is to be selfish.

When people have no purpose in life and when they do not have a correct hierarchy of values, they live aimless and sad lives.  The existence becomes superficial, boring, and even narcissistic.

Let us conclude our reflection with my favorite quote from Pope John Paul II.  I have quoted these words many times in my writing because they are so important for us to understand and to live out within the circumstances of our daily lives: “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it” (Redemptor Hominis, 10).