Homily given by Fr. John O’Connor OP
When thinking about what to say for today, I found myself thinking of the words of one of the great London eccentrics – don’t worry I’m not going to quote you! I am thinking of William Blake. There is a line in one of his poems that goes like this:
‘We are put on earth for a little space that we may learn to bear the beams of love.’
What Blake’s words may remind us of is that love is not something we have straight off, but something we need to learn, something we have to grow into and explore, and explore for ourselves – no one else can do this for us.
As they journeyed with Jesus, the disciples in their own mixed-up ways learnt about love, they learnt about love by sharing their lives with him, listening to him preach and teach as well as spreading the Good News themselves. Their lives with Jesus one big master class in what it is to love, and as part of this there were times when Jesus was alone with them and gave them, you could say, tutorials in which he spoke to them directly about love.
One of these tutorials was during some of his last moments with his disciples: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you”. What is Jesus telling us here? He is saying that not only are we to do something called ‘loving / we are to do it as Jesus does. You could say that when it comes to understanding what love is, what we are to do is to look at the life of Christ and see that every single moment of that life is an expression of love, simple and true. Jesus is the point of reference as to what love is all about, and we are called to make that same love a reality in our lives.
All this is to hold that love is at the centre of what our lives are meant to be. Why is it then that we so often get what love is all about so very, very wrong? In his book, The Art of Loving ‘To love somebody is not just a strong feeling – it is a decision, it is a judgment, it is a promise. If love were only a feeling, there would be no basis for the promise to love each other forever. A feeling comes and it may go. How can I judge that it will stay forever, when my act does not involve judgment and decision?
How very different from so many presentations of what love is about! Fromm is not for a second denying that love involves emotions – it would be somewhat strange if it didn’t. But love is not equivalent to emotions, it is more about commitment, being true, in effect, saying you are important to me and I show this by how I live my life, what choices I make, what decisions I continue to uphold and be true to. And so mature and deep love does not go up and down like a little boat on the currents of the sea. There may be times when the love is stronger and times when it is challenged, but throughout there remains something true, something constant, something steady. And this we see in Christ, who loved unto death, even death on a cross.
Sister Ann and our Jubilarians.
Today we celebrate the Diamond anniversaries of Srs Jackie, Lucy and Walthera; and the Golden Anniversaries of Srs Ann, Collette and Winnie. We often use the word ‘celebrate’ to mean something like ‘remember ‘or ‘commemorate,’ and forget what is meant by ‘to celebrate,’ but today we are truly celebrating, rejoicing in and thanking God for a decision, a commitment freely undertaken, an act of love for Christ and his Church, an act of love whose reality is seen in the fidelity lived out over many years. In this alone you have shown love in your lives but, think about how you imagined love all those years ago when you uttered those words of commitment on the day of your profession, as you made your vows. then think about what the university of life has taught you about love in the years since then, in those years when you walked with Christ and allowed him to teach you to bear the beams of love.
From Holland, Roscommon, Dublin and Cork and then to Bushey and from there to all sorts of roles, teaching at school, certainly, but also working in the tertiary educational sector, working with the deaf, publishing, working with youth and chaplaincy, living and working amongst people in the UK, South Africa and the Caribbean, and of course, living in community together, with much time dedicated to keeping communities ticking over and even flourishing these works show love in action, love being lived out and love being learnt.
In all this we see something that is central to the reality of love, that love is not something that looks inwards, but something that always has an eye looking outward, looking outward to our world, to help build up the Kingdom of God. Jesus says: “I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last”. You will all have touched many lives, and in that you have lived out love, and will have found your own life of love strengthened and deepened.
But there remains another aspect of love – of the Christian understanding of love – that we Dominicans more than most emphasize and rightly so. As well as realising love involves commitment and that love always has an eye looking outwards, we see in the life of Christ that love makes us more human, more ourselves.
Mother Rose Niland knew this. After all, she was a dedicated reader of St Catherine, naming this Congregation after St Catherine. For she, to a rare degree even among the greatest saints of the Church, appreciated that to love with the love of Christ is to be most truly ourselves. Be who God meant you to be, she declares, and you will set the world on fire.
None of us will ever know the extent to which we have made a difference – only God knows – but the words of Catherine are not simply words that explain what will happen: Do X and the outcome will be Y. Rather, they speak of a promise, that if we learn to bear the beams of love, it will make a difference, it will set the world on fire in all sorts of ways that we may not even realise, and so we entrust all these things into the hands of our loving God.
Each of you, Winnie, Walthera, Lucy, Jackie, Collette and Ann will have your own thoughts, your own personal story, your own learning curve in the university of love that is our lives, but in coming here today for what is truly a celebration, we thank God for you, we ask God’s abundant blessing upon you and look forward to the story continuing, the story of love that your lives witness to.
But perhaps I had better finish with some words of Catherine, words that bring it all together, where fidelity, mission, and our own flourishing, both personal and together, are all part of the same reality that is love, part of the lives we are called to lead as Dominicans, lives that witness to being loved by God and so able to love in return:
I gave you eyes to look at the sky and everything else and the beauty of creation through me.
I gave you your ears to listen to my word and to pay attention to the needs of your neighbour.
I gave you your tongue to proclaim my word, to confess your own sins, and to work for the salvation of others.
I gave you your hands to serve your neighbours when you see them sick, and to help them with alms in their need.
I gave you feet to carry you in places that are holy and useful to you and your neighbours for the glory and praise of my name’