24th / 25th October 2020

posted 30 Oct 2020, 03:15 by Parish Office

Homily for the Thirtieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A (24 & 25/10/20)

St Augustine of Hippo is sometimes quoted as saying, “Love, and do what you will”. But what is love? It’s not quite so clear as you might think. This is what St Augustine also says:

“…we find people made fierce by love; and by wickedness made seductively gentle. A father beats a boy, while a kidnapper caresses him. Offered a choice between blows and caresses, who would not choose the caresses and avoid the blows? But when you consider the people who give them, you realize that it is love that beats, wickedness that caresses. This is what I insist upon: human actions can only be understood by their root in love.”

So when Our Lord tells us to love God above all else, and our neighbour as ourselves, we need a bit of “programming”, if you like, as to what love is. What does it mean to love God? What does it mean to love our neighbour? We have to know the whole content of our faith. Some years ago, I was running a session of the parish youth group in my first parish, and they were doing a bit of preparation for confession, as we were in either Advent or Lent at the time. I can remember one of the teenage lads, who was in the sixth form by that point, looking through the CTS A Simple Prayer Book, which has an examination of conscience, and we were laughing at him as he discovered more and more things that he did that were sins. He was saying things like, “Oh no! And sarcasm is a sin as well!”

If we just get back to the original context in Our Lord’s time, the Pharisees think that this time, they’ve really got Him trapped. The Jewish Law is so complicated, that no matter what He says, people will argue against it. There were so many rules and regulations and commandments and so on. Is He going to pick the Sabbath? The honour due to God? Care for the weak and oppressed? Etc. etc. But no. He zooms out from all of these and says that the most important, over-arching concern is first, to love God above all else, and then secondly, our neighbour as ourselves.

Fast forward to the 1970s, and now people in the Catholic Church, or more accurately, some people in the Catholic Church, take the opposite extreme to the Pharisees. In the past people learned the Penny Catechism off by heart, not always understanding all of it until they were older. But now we

just say, “God loves you”. All the rest you’ll work out for yourself later. How should I behave? “Love, and do what you will.” And so we have people poorly formed in their faith, and also many people lapsing from their faith.

We’ve moved on from the errors of the seventies. We need to know our faith, but it’s not just about intellectual knowledge. Our faith is something multi-layered, including prayer, spirituality, mystery, the lives of the saints, the life of grace etc. It’s also not just about the externals, either, but they are part of it. You can get someone to do a good impersonation of a practising Catholic, going to Mass, knowing what to do in church etc., but there needs to be the heart. “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Not just the mind alone, but with all your heart and all your soul. And then, after all that, there’s the whole topic of how we love our neighbour. The Church produced the Catechism of the Catholic Church back in 1994, a whole lot bigger than the Penny Catechism, revised it in 1999 to make it hopefully a bit easier to navigate and understand, and then, if you wanted a bit more detail on how to love your neighbour, brought out the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church in 2005. There’s plenty of bedtime reading. But, if you’re a convert whose family are non-Catholics, you will know that you need more than just reading books – you need to speak to real Catholics and see how the faith is lived out (ideally Catholics who live out their faith properly, rather than ones who haven’t been to church since they were baptised when they were two months old). We can take great inspiration from the saints, but how do we live the faith now, in 2020? In St Augustine’s time, there was no social media.

Just going back to St Augustine, he did say, “Love and do what you will”. But he wasn’t a 1960s hippie. He was a fifth century Catholic bishop. What he meant was that when we love perfectly, then we only want to do what pleases God. And who is the best example of that? Our Lady. When the archangel Gabriel presented God’s plan that she was to be the Mother of God, her love for the Lord and her openness to His plan meant that she couldn’t do anything else but say yes. It was a case of, “Love and do what you will.” “ ‘I am the handmaid of the Lord,’ said Mary ‘let what you have said to be done to me'," (Luke 1:38)