17th Sunday after Pentecost
At the heart of today’s liturgy we are given to contemplate the battle that rages between God and Satan, between Love and Hatred, between Unity and Division. The very source of unity is to be found in our Blessed Lord Himself, as St Paul stresses to the Ephesians: There is one Lord, one faith, one Baptism. Of course there would be, because there is only one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ. God is not a scoundrel to have taken several wives and fathered illegitimate children. No, the unity of God moves Him to found a Church which is the source of unity in this life before we are admitted to the eternal communion of God and the elect in Heaven. In reality, there is only one Family of God, part of which is fighting the good fight of faith here below, part of which is already enjoying the vision of God in Heaven, and part of which is still in purification in Purgatory. We who have the true faith are all of the same household, with the same Father, and that makes us all brothers and sisters of God’s family. All other members of the human race are called to that same unity, even if they have not yet attained to it.
It is an extraordinary honour God has given us in calling us to be part of His Family, and this honour, this title of nobility, has its price and its demands. The most important debt we have to God and to all those He calls His children is the debt of love. In today’s Gospel, our Blessed Lord, questioned by one of the scribes as to the greatest commandment of the Law, does not hesitate: The commandment to love takes precedence over all others, for it inspires and grounds all others. We must love the Lord our God with all our heart, all our soul, all our strength, all our powers. There is nothing in us that is permitted to not be turned entirely towards the love of our God.
But what is it to love God? What is it to love? To love is to choose someone and to want good for that person that we love. To love is to hold someone in such affection that we desire and will do all in our power to obtain what is good for them, even at our own cost. But the question arises: how can we want what is good for God? How can we do good to God, when God is goodness itself, lacking nothing of all that is good? Are we not constrained to admit that we can give Him nothing, and that any good thing we might want for Him He already has? If this is so, why are we commanded to love?
The commandment, for sure, is not for God; it is for us. It is good for us to love God and to want what is good for Him. St Elizabeth of the Trinity gives us another reason. She says that a soul that dwells in God, with pure, disinterested love, wishes well to God by accomplishing His will. Such a soul surrenders itself entirely, blindly, to this will so that it cannot possibly wish anything but what God wishes. In other words, if we love God, we should exert ourselves continually in embracing His every will. That is why we say in the Our Father: Thy Will be done. We want His will to be done because we love Him, and we know that if it is done, then so many more people will be brought to His love, for God wants all of them to be part of His family.
But let’s return to St Paul. His insistence is striking: I beseech you… with all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity, careful to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. When we reflect upon the Apostle’s theology, we can see that, far from being a purely utilitarian concept of superficial unity as might be seen for example in the players on a team or colleagues at work. For these, concerted efforts have a precise, functional goal. Once it is achieved, there is no longer a need for unity, and the unity itself is only partial, concerning one area of their lives. Players on the same team do not necessarily have any particular love for each other.
For St Paul on the contrary, our unity stems from the very unity of God. There is one God, and there are Three Divine Persons who share in that one divine essence. The Church of the faithful mirrors the life of God. This is what inspired St Cyprian to say that the Church is the “plebs de unitate Trinitatis adunata – the people brought together in one by the unity of the Trinity”. In other words, the very source of the Church is the unity of God, and therefore the faith will always tend to unite. Throughout the centuries, it seeks to englobe all of humanity in the divine unity, bringing all to partake of the life of God given to us through the Incarnation.
This is why in today’s Gospel, after replying to His questioner about the great commandment of love, the Lord Himself becomes the questioner and, in words that left all of the hearers mystified, pointed to the Incarnation. The Messiah is the Son of David in the flesh, but He is the Lord of David in the Spirit, for He is God Himself. The unity of the divinity and the humanity of Christ in the Person of the Eternal Word, like the unity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, are what makes it possible for us to achieve real and lasting unity, over and beyond legitimate approaches to many things. If we are united in the one faith, if we have in our hearts the love of God Himself, then we can only tend more and more towards being one in Christ.
There are of course dangers and obstacles to the unity of God’s family. In particular there are what today’s oration calls the “diabolical contagion”, expression which englobes all the Enemy’s efforts to keep us from going to God: temptation to sin, the darkness he seeks to spread over our minds and hearts, the webs he seeks to weave around us without our even knowing it, the distractions at prayer, words that hurt and sow discord, etc. The contagion of the devil is the exact opposite of what God’s service should do. Since the love of God unites all His children, the devil sows division, separation.
What is the remedy? First of all, never use the tactics of the enemy. Never accept to walk along the path of discord, division, hurt, slander.… When we are tempted to hatred, when we want to fight back, we need to remind ourselves of the precept of love and practice all the virtues, especially the ones the apostle mentions today: humility, meekness, patience. “Where there are sins, there are also divisions, schisms, heresies, and disputes. Where there is virtue, however, there also are harmony and unity, from which arise the one heart and one soul of all believers” (Origen).
Unity is not an option. It is the will of Christ. In His sacerdotal prayer in John 17, five times in just a few lines, Our Lord asks the Father to give unity to His disciples: Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou hast given me: that they may be one, as we also are… And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me. That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them: that, they may be one, as we also are one. I in them, and thou in me: that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me (Jn 17:11, 21-23).
Clearly, we have our task cut out for us. Our job is to live in communion with God, not to offend Him by sin, either directly or against our neighbour. In an age for which the individual is autonomous, and therefore personal interests frequently clash, it is the duty of all those who believe in Christ to avoid anything that hurts, that divides. The Church is wounded enough today for us not to add to those wounds by the bitterness of words that can only hurt. We will do well to employ the filter of Socrates. When someone is about to tell you something and you have reason to suspect it’s detraction, you should ask, 1) is it true? 2) is it good? 3) is it useful? If it’s not all three, don’t listen to it. Let us never forget the unique sign the Lord gave that we would be His disciples: In this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
In our fight against the diabolical contagion, let us avail ourselves of the help of the holy angels. This week we will honour St Michael on Tuesday and the Holy Guardian Angels on Friday. Let us become familiar with them and speak frequently to them, asking their aid at all times.
Let us pray, with the Prophet Daniel that the face of Our Lord may once again shine upon His Sanctuary, the Holy Church, dissipating the darkness of sin and error, and that She in turn may enlighten all nations and show the way to the eternal home.