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Thursday, March 30, 2017
Homily text: Timothy Radcliffe OP
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¬†Fr Timothy gave the following homily at St Anne's Soho last night, (Sixth Sunday of Easter, year B) . The first reading and the gospel go on and on about loving each other. 'This is my commandment: love one another as I have loved you.' But how can we be commanded to love each other? Is it possible? Imagine that I were to go up to Fred and say, 'Fred, I love you. But only because God commands me to. Personally, I find you an odious creep.' Fred might not feel very loved. It sounds odd to command someone to love because we tend to think that loving is about having warm feelings about someone. So to love everyone would be to go around with a perpetual and indiscriminate benevolent glow. But this sounds implausible and not particularly useful. It might be easy to smoke cannabis or take a pill. In the sixties magic mushrooms were supposed to do the trick. So what is Jesus on about? First of all, we may easily misunderstand what is meant by commandment. We may think of the ten commandments as regulations to be obeyed. I am reminded of the Dominican who was chaplain to a Polish regiment during the battle of Monte Cassino in the Second World War. On the night before the last push, thousands of soldiers wished to confess. What was he to do? This was before General Absolution had been thought about, let alone forbidden. So he had all the soldiers lie face down on the ground so that they could not see each other. And then he went through the list of commandments. And if you had broken one, you raised your left leg. And with your right leg you indicated how many times. But in gospels Jesus' commandments are usually more like a summons than a law. He says to the lame, stand up and walk. He says to Lazarus when he raises him from the dead, 'Come out of the tomb.' Jesus' commandments summon us to life, to flourish. He commands us to love not as another obligation, such as paying our taxes and not exceeding the speed limit. It is the summons to become alive. Then he says, 'As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.' The Father's love is not something that one person of the Trinity just happens to have for another. He does not have warm feelings about the Son. He is the one who loves the Son into being from all eternity. Just as the Son is the one who loves the Father. And their love is the Holy Spirit. Love is not something that God does. It is who God is. The identity of the members of the Trinity is their love. As it said in the first reading, 'Anyone who fails to love can never have known God, because God is love.' For God love not a feeling. It's not even an activity. It is identity. If we are to love each other as the Father loves the Son, then this means that we summoned to discover our identity with and through each other. When you love someone, then you discover that they are forever part of who you are. When you say 'I', then part of that 'I' is being someone who loves that other person. One's 'I' is always a 'we.' So Jesus' commandment that we love one another is not the obligation to cultivate warm feelings about everyone. It is become someone whose identity is not built upon the exclusion or the expulsion of anyone. I do not define myself by the rejection of anyone. James Alison has written marvellously about this. Most of our identities are built on exclusion. We Arsenal supporters over against you awful Barcelona people. We English against you Scots. Once the Lone Ranger and Tonto found themselves surrounded by 25,000 Sioux in the Dakotas, and it began to look tough. The Lone Ranger turns to Tonto and he says, 'What do you think we ought to do?' And Tonto replies: 'What do you mean "we" white man? ' Then Jesus says: 'One can have no greater love than this, to lay down one's life for one's friends.' One may, of course, literally have to lay down one's life. An obvious example is that of Maximilian Kolbe. One day in the summer of 1941, three prisoners escaped from the concentration camp, so the Gestapo decided to kill ten prisoners in return. When these were lined up, Father Kolbe suddenly stepped forward and pointed at one of the men, who was married and had children, and took his place. He laid down his life for that man and his family. One does not lay down one's life because one is selfless. It is because that other person is part of my self. To give your life for someone who love is to show who one is. It is to cherish one's identity as including that other person. The mother would die for her child, because her child is part of her very being. Most of us will not be called to literally give our lives away like that. But we lay down our lives every time our life is stretched upon to include someone who had been remote. We lay down our lives when discover who we are in friendship with some one who had seemed alien. We can see this happening in first reading. Peter has lay down his old life, his old identity, when he embraces Gentiles as part of the Church. He has to discover a new self that includes them. One of the ways in which we shut someone out of our lives is by divinising or demonising them. Peter refuses to be treated as a God. 'I too am a human being, like yourself. We have a common humanity.' More often we demonise people. Just as Cornelius wished to worship Peter, so often we either divinise or demonise his successor and the whole Vatican. But they too are human, just like us, neither gods nor devils. Our identity must be large enough to embrace them too, as part of who we are. Let me conclude with quotation from Dom Christian de Chergť. He was Prior of a community of Cistercians who lived in Algeria. They knew that they were quite likely to be killed with Islamicist assassins, but they refused to run away. Shortly before their assassination, Dom Christian wrote his last testament. It illustrates everything I wish to say and this is how it ended: "For this life lost, totally mine and totally theirs, I thank God, who seems to have willed it entirely for the sake of that JOY in everything and in spite of everything. In this THANK YOU, which is said for everything in my life from now on, I certainly include you, friends of yesterday and today, and you, my friends of this place, along with my mother and father, my sisters and brothers and their families -- you are the hundredfold granted as was promised! And, addressing the expected assassin, also you, my last-minute friend, who will not have known what you were doing: Yes, I want this THANK YOU and this GOODBYE to be a "GOD BLESS" for you, too, because in God's face I see yours. May we meet again as happy thieves in Paradise, if it please God, the Father of us both. AMEN! INSHALLAH!
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