Homily, 31 January 2016, Fourth Sunday in Ordinarty Time
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Homily 31 January 2016 Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19; Psalm 71:1-2,3-4,5-6,15-17; 1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13  ————— But I shall show you a still more excellent way.—————Every other month I teach the theology of baptism class for new parents. We begin with the Trinitarian formula, the essential words of the sacrament: “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” So I ask the parents: “What does the Trinity mean to you? Why does it matter to you that God is a Trinity of Persons and not just one person or even two or four? Do you know how they almost always answer that question? They sit very quietly. It’s a hard question but an important one because the answer ought to influence how we think about family life and friendship, and how we think about ourselves and about society. So after a few moments of silence, I say to the parents: Let me tell you about Richard of St Victor. He was a mystical theologian who lived more than 800 years ago and who wrote a reflection of the Trinity that I’ve found very helpful. He begins his reflection with a simple statement from St. John: “God is love …” Well, he thought, if God is love then he has to be perfect love. But if there was only one person in God, then God’s love would be self-love, and that just can’t be, for self-love is at best an imperfect kind of love. Perfect love, he continues, requires another person because love must be given to another … and that person should be equal in dignity and therefore also divine. So there must be at least two persons in God. Then comes Richard’s important insight. If love is perfect, then it must be shared not simply between two persons, but with another. Now at this point, my parents look a little startled. Sometimes I get a few giggles or even some disgusted looks. If you think that the highest form of love is romantic love, Richard’s insight seems a little odd. So I ask the parents: how many of you want your spouse to love your child and your child to love your spouse. Isn’t family life best when love is given, and returned, and shared? Doesn’t that also describe friendship at it’s best? And that is Richard’s third insight: perfect love is not possessive or exclusive. Anyone who loves will seek the good of the beloved both by finding someone else for him to love and thus finding someone else for him to be loved by. Now this third person must also be equal in dignity to the others and therefore must also be divine. If God is love, Richard concluded, then it makes sense that God must be a Trinity of Persons. Although Richard’s argument is framed in the logical academic style of the Middle Ages, I’ve found it very helpful in my spiritual life.—————But of course, Richard’s musing on the Trinity still doesn’t answer my original question. So I ask the parents one more time: why does it matter to you that God is a Trinity? My answer is that it matters because we are made in the image of God. We show forth the image of God only when we love and care for others. “It is not good for the man to be alone,” said God of Adam. It’s that simple.—————Love grows with the help of grace, and as it grows, possessiveness and exclusiveness will fall away. What becomes important is simply the good of the beloved. But what does that mean? What is “the good?” Before you answer, remember that Jesus said “love your enemies …” If the Christian insight is that everyone is made in the Image of God, it is also Christian insight that everyone is stained by Original Sin. Thus there is a tension in each of us between light and darkness. It’s why we aren’t surprised when non-believers are good people and when professed Christians behave quite badly. If love means seeking the good for others, then it means we have to be merciful and not simply just. We have to do what we can to help someone to develop the good that is in him, by helping him to love God and neighbor. It also means we have to help him turn away from darkness and toward the light of Christ. We can love our enemies. If you reflect on today’s Gospel, you see this aspect of love played out. Jesus had proclaimed the good news to those who knew him. He also confronted them with their darkness. When they responded in fury he didn’t condemn or fight back, he simply went away, preventing them from sinning further and giving them time to reflect and repent. So loving someone, wanting the good for him, can be a challenge. It doesn’t always lead to happiness, especially in the short term.—————Finally, it’s important to understand that love isn’t simply a feeling. Love is a virtue founded on grace, and like all virtues, it must become a habit. But turning virtuous acts into a lifelong habit takes practice and determination. Paul says it this way: “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” Paul’s words in the reading today are simply a guide for growing in the virtue of love, what he calls the more excellent way. His instructions are an examination of conscience, but not simply a review of what we have done and what we have failed to do, but also of our motivations: If I give away everything I own, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.—————Why does it matter that God is Trinity and that we are made in his image? It matters because if we understand how we are made, then we can see the way forward even if we see it indistinctly. There are many ways forward in life, but the greatest of these is love. It is the more excellent way.