Of course, it is possible to live a purposeful and satisfying life that is entirely self-centred in which I and I alone matter. Other people are welcome to take their place in the course of my life in so far as they contribute to my goals, but their happiness is ultimately not my concern. I will probably make an exception for immediate family, naturally enough, but people beyond that circle must look after themselves.
The problem with this all-too-common scenario is, once again, the omnipresent “I”. Me; my will; what “I” want—all of these things are at the centre of my existence and activity. They alone give meaning and purpose: one that is finite and that ends abruptly in death.
If, however, we ask “What does Almighty God will that I do with my life?”, we are travelling by a different road—one that does not have a dead end, but rather one in which the knowledge that I have assiduously striven to do God’s will throughout my life gives a meaning and purpose that is consummated only in and beyond the end of my life here on earth. For in renouncing the almighty “I”, in denying ourselves and taking up the cross and following God’s will, in losing the self-centred life we could have had for the sake of doing God’s will, we will find life itself, indeed we find Life Himself! (cf. Mt 16:24-25).
“What does Almighty God will that I do with my life?” Years can be spent—half a lifetime wasted even —in anguished ‘discernment’ over this question, and yes, Almighty God does call us to serve Him in this life in different ways. However, regardless of the particular life to which we are called, Our Lord Jesus Christ makes abundantly clear in the Holy Gospel this morning that first and foremost each and every one of us is called to love the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. Our primary obligation is to God: to love and worship Him. Everything else follows on, indeed it flows, from this.
For the monk who does not put the love and adoration of Almighty God first amongst his duties is unworthy of the name. The marriage that is not itself a sacrificial act of the love of God is a mere human contract. Clerics whose career accomplishments may be renown throughout the world but who neglect their first duty—the zealous love and faithful worship of Almighty God—are in grave danger of eternal condemnation. Any number of seemingly good or even great human endeavours and achievements that are not rooted in the love of God are—to borrow St Paul’s words—little more than “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (cf. 1 Cor 13:1)
This is why the Church’s solemn public worship of Almighty God (“the Sacred Liturgy”) is fundamental to Christian life. To be a Christian is to live a liturgical life—as a bare minimum by participating in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation. If I exclude myself from the Church’s solemn worship, I cut myself off from Christ and break the first and greatest commandment. If I am parsimonious in my liturgical worship—or were the Church herself to become so—it could legitimately be asked whether we are loving the Lord our God with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind. This, of course, is why questions of liturgical worship and rite are by no means at all peripheral matters…
Our Lord gives us a second answer to the question of “What does Almighty God will that I do with my life?”: we must love our neighbour as ourselves. Again, this commandment holds true regardless of the shape of our particular vocation, even if some may be dedicated to more active service of others.
But this is the second commandment, not the first. If we respect this order and give the first commandment the priority that is its due, we shall avoid the pernicious quicksand of activism that has swallowed up the faith of many Christians, reducing them to secular do-gooders ready to do good to all except, seemingly, to Almighty God. So too this priority helps in the discernment of our particular vocation: if I am concerned primarily about what I can “do” in a particular life, rather than first seeking to love God in and through it, then I should think again. Again, as St Paul teaches, “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:3).
The questions “What shall I do with my life?” and “What have I done with my life?” are of vital importance, for upon the answers to them we shall be judged. Let us beg the grace of Almighty God in this Holy Mass then, ever more to love Him with all of our heart, all of our soul and all of our mind, most particularly in the Church’s solemn worship, and to live out that love of Him in love of our neighbour in the daily circumstances of the particular life to which He calls me. +