Over the 30 years that I have been a priest I have met many people who live heroic lives bringing love to others in ways that are extraordinary. I have met people who have forgiven those who have committed heinous crimes. I have watched as people have physically cared for those who live on the margins. I have been privileged to walk with many people whose personal lives are a mess but who live in hope.
It strikes me after all these experiences that all our theological arguments, all our religious ritual, all the questions that we ask, matter little to God. All that matters is love. We can be good Catholics and not have an ounce of love in our hearts for the stranger, the orphan, the asylum-seeker – those who live on the fringes. I wonder what God thinks when looking at what really goes on inside us and not at the religious things we do.
In the Second Vatican Council document Gaudium et Spes, one of the great lines that the Church fathers present us with is that we are to give people reasons for living and hoping. What word of hope does the Church have to offer the world if it is not unconditional love? The world is tired of our ideas and theologies and religious practices but will believe love. It will believe life that is given and received. We have lived in our heads for so long – just as the Scribes and the Pharisees did – that the world no longer listens to us. People vote with their feet as they struggle and search for what brings life abundantly.
I was reading something recently that I found quite challenging. It was this: "Until we Christians give evidence that there is life on this side of death, the world does not need to believe our dogmas and giant churches. It doesn't need our words of hell. It needs our promise of heaven."
Unless we love, we have no hope to offer the world. The Sadducees and the Pharisees loved their theological arguments. They loved to be seen to keep the rules and regulations and that is why Jesus teaches them about the greatest commandment of all. Love.
Love one another and you will begin to understand the ways of God. Do not let it be all about being right and being moral and keeping the rules. Let it be about love and you will have a genuine experience of the God who is love – and then we might just be able to offer the world reasons for living and hoping.