Sunday Homily, 29th October - Fr Paul Rowse, OP
There are two traps we need to step around this Sunday. On the one hand, there is the trap of making everything only about love: we’d become indifferent to the formative purpose of the Christian moral law. On the other hand, there is the trap of regarding every law as of equal importance: we’d become mercilessly inflexible towards ourselves and others. So, there’s a mean to be found and made our own. The Lord confirms this in his brilliant reply to the Pharisees. He was asked about the greatest commandment of the law but will begin to answer them with the “greatest and first” in it, leaving room for a second, third, and fourth.
To help us avoid these traps, we can consider whether the Lord and his law means what we mean about love. When we think of love, we think of romantic and familial attachment, warm sentiment, and personal preferences. But the heart isn’t so much the seat of affection for our forebears as it is of cognition, attention, and contemplation. The loving heart is a wise one; the best kind of heart is one which is discerning and perceptive.
So, when we hear that we are to love God with all our heart, we understand that we are to give him our close attention as well as our strong affection, our best thoughts as well as our positive regard. We can love God well when we turn our minds towards him.
To help us along with this, I might ask you about what your first thought was this morning. Perhaps it was for a spouse or a child: that’s quite right because it’s natural. The supernatural, however, such as God is, requires conscious effort. Each of us has to work out the way that’s best. But might I suggest that you speak a one-line prayer as early as possible in your day. Yes, there’ll be the call of the hungry, sick, sad, but God also needs to be there as the first, self-made thought.
Going further, we know the Lord requires us to distinguish between love of him and of our neighbour. We love them not with all our heart, as that would make an idol out of them, but as ourselves. One of the great benefits of living in this time in human history is that we are becoming ever more aware of the need for self-care. We have more resources available to us to see how well we truly love ourselves. If you’re like me, there’s no problem with love of neighbour: you all get as good and better as I give myself. But we can always do better still.
Self-love begins with how we are loved by God. He has chosen you, forgiven you, graced and blessed you, and empowered you. So, you have to forgive yourself, bless yourself, and ready yourself. If God has been so good to you, who are you to be hard on yourself? Everything that we’ve just said applies equally to our neighbour. He has chosen them, forgiven them, graced and blessed them, and empowered them. So, who are you to be anything but loving towards them?
For loving God includes receiving the good news of how he has loved us first, how he loves us all together. If we make God our first concern, our hearts become wise and our neighbour dearer to us. If we give first place to the divine Lawgiver, all who are under his reign of love are given their proper place in our daily life.
Fr Paul Rowse, OP