The Most Universal Question in Human History
The most universally asked question in human history is “What is the meaning of life?” Other ways to phrase this question might be: “Why am I here?” or “What is my purpose?” Still, others might ask: “Where do I go when I die?”
The Dewey Decimal System in libraries is a helpful guide for us to understand what our forebears went through systematically. We begin with philosophy, then move to religion, then to the social sciences, language, pure science, technology, arts and recreation, and literature, and then only to history and geography. These primary questions about our existence begin in philosophy.
What does it mean to exist (metaphysics)? How do we come to know things (epistemology)? How can we figure out, from our nature, what is right or wrong and what is just (axiology)? And finally, how can we organize what we know and make sense of the world through argumentation (logic)?” Of course, the names for these branches of philosophical inquiry are new, but the concepts are as old as humanity.
So, what is the answer for us who have the luxury of human history and the superb revelation of Almighty God, our Creator?
The Meaning of Life
Put simply, the meaning of life is to know and love God. The knowledge of God can be known through human reason by seeing His effects, apart from direct revelation. Yet, God has given us so much in Sacred Scripture, Sacred Tradition, the Church, and even the “Book of Nature.” If we want to “find,” God we need only to seek Him. He is not hiding from us, but He is just enough out of focus to preserve our freedom.
If God was manifestly obvious to even those who are not seeking Him, free will would be compromised. Instead, God wants to be pursued, even as He pursues our hearts. God has been likened by the poet Francis Thompson as the Hound of Heaven.
In our fear and rebellion, we fled from God and hid from Him. But the Hound of Heaven with His “unhurrying chase,” “deliberate speed,” “strong Feet,” and “majestic instancy” continues to never let us go. He wants us to know Him, and He wants us to love Him. I love this visual of the Hound of Heaven because God does not need to chase us if He wants to capture us. But, out of infinite love for us, He remains on our heels until we are ready to turn around and embrace Him. What love!
The Gospel – The Good News of Jesus Christ
Before Creation, God was “infinitely perfect and blessed in himself (CCC, 1)” and it was out of sheer goodness that God made man. What is more, He made man to share in His own blessed life. Just like the Hound of Heaven’s image, “at every time and in every place, God draws close to man (CCC, 1).”
He calls us all together, that we might respond. By the Fall, we were scattered and divided by sin, and God answered with His Church which draws us into a unity. He accomplished this by sending His Son as the Redeemer and Savior of mankind. In and through Jesus Christ and His saving Gospel, we are invited to become, in the Holy Spirit, adopted sons and daughters of the Father.
This is the Good News! God created us for His glory, out of sheer goodness. By sin, all have fallen short of the glory of God (except Mary). This results in separation from God. God sends His Son for our salvation to solve the problem of sin. The response to this gift is the call to repent, believe in Jesus, and be baptized. By the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we are bought back from sin and death and invited to eternal life in Heaven!
The Gospel in Motion
This call of the Gospel invites a response. Jesus Christ commissioned and sent forth His Apostles to proclaim the Gospel, promising to remain with them. The Apostles did indeed go forth in boldness after Pentecost and preached the Gospel to all lands, through the ministry of the Church. They also did many wondrous signs to confirm the truth of what they were proclaiming.
Even today, two thousand years after Pentecost, we in the Church, as Members of the Body of Christ, are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. As Pope St. Paul VI said the Church “exists in order to evangelize, that is to say, in order to preach and teach, to be the channel of the gift of grace, to reconcile sinners with God, and to perpetuate Christ’s sacrifice in the Mass, which is the memorial of His death and glorious resurrection (Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14).”
As followers of Christ, this is our call. We must answer the call and respond with the sacrifice of our lives to the mission of the Church!
Guarding the Treasure
This call is so important to the Christian life that it is stated strongly in the third paragraph of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
“Those who with God’s help have welcomed Christ’s call and freely responded to it are urged on by love of Christ to proclaim the Good News everywhere in the world. This treasure, received from the apostles, has been faithfully guarded by their successors. All Christ’s faithful are called to hand it on from generation to generation, by professing the faith, by living it in fraternal sharing, and by celebrating it in liturgy and prayer (CCC, 3).”
How do we guard the treasure of the Church? We LIVE it faithfully! We hand it on to the next generations with fidelity to the content being unchanged. We profess the faith with our words and deeds. We live the treasures of the Church in the Parish in community and by celebrating the sacred mysteries of Jesus Christ in liturgy, especially the Holy Mass, and in private and communal prayer.
Knowing and Loving God
In answering the call of the Church to share and live the Gospel, we are also answering the universal question: “What is the meaning of life?” By sharing and living the Gospel, we come to know and love God in a plentitude of ways.
Our belonging to the Church and living the life of the Church, with one another, united in the goal of knowing, loving, serving, and glorifying God, is how we find the ultimate meaning of our life.