Sunday, 23 October 2011
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A, Shaftesbury
Last week’s sermon was very interesting for me, and you know, sometimes a sermon can be more interesting to the preacher than to the congregation! It was interesting to me because although I thought it was not interesting, nonetheless, judging from people’s attention and comments afterwards it was something that at least many of you the congregation found interesting.
I preached last week about “rendering unto God what is God’s”, and about justice in general, and about how there are various things that we OWE in justice to God, to the poor, to our family members.
Two interesting questions were put to me afterwards, one asked, If we are acting in justice, where does that leave love? And another asked, if we’re acting out of justice, does that give any joy?
Which isn’t a bad introduction to today’s Gospel with the command of love.
Now, it sometimes happens that we can bristle at the sound of a “command” to love? Surely, it might seem, we love someone simply because we love them, not because we are commanded to love them.
This, actually, takes me to a very important point: There are different kinds of love.
I can love with a very minimal love, a love that renders unto another what I owe him, but does not go beyond what I owe him. This is the love of justice. And it is possible to have a minimal but nonetheless real love.
St Thomas Aquinas makes the point that God has given us the ‘precept’, the COMMAND to love because there IS a level of love that we owe in justice (ST II-II q44 a1). My point in last week’s sermon was to indicate that there are many things that we OWE in justice, in this first degree of love.
It has often been said: The reason why the Ten Commandments are mainly specified in a negative format, “Do not...”, is because they point to the lower limit of love (c.f. Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor (1993) n.13). Love has a lower limit, when we fail to love, but there is no upper limit –we cannot love too much, though we can love in a disordered way.
But there is also another degree of love, a love that goes beyond what I am required to give, and gives even more. Gives more time, more effort, more care, more money, and so forth. This is a love beyond justice, a love which fulfils justice even as it transcends it.
There are some other things that we associate with love, however, and chief among them are joy and reciprocity.
When we are in love there is a natural overflow of JOY that we experience, be it in love of spouse, of friend, or of God. Joy is an effect of charity (ST II-II q28 a1).
But, probably most characteristically of all, we think of love, and of ‘being in love’, in terms of a love that is returned. This is not the only form of love –we can love an enemy. But it is what we most associate with love. This is what Aristotle called the ‘love of friendship’ when we not only will good to someone, not only have them will good back to us, but we each know that this goodwill is reciprocated. (Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, Bk VIII, chpt 2, 1155b30, c.f. Aquinas, ST II-II q23 a1)
This, precisely, is the form of love that the Lord Jesus invites us to. To have the love of friendship with God. (c.f. ST II-II q23 a1)
This includes certain basic things, like what justice demands in the various acts of religion, like coming to Mass each and every Sunday.
But, the love of friendship, to love God as a friend, seeking not merely to avoid falling below the minimum set in the Ten Commandments, means to love Him “with our whole heart, and soul, and strength”, such that we love all things that He loves, such that we love our neighbour, our spouse, everyone, even more than we would love them otherwise.