Catholic Contextual urban Theology, Mimetic Theory, Contemplative Prayer. And other random ramblings.

Tuesday 25 June 2024

Sermon for a Mass of Thanksgiving for a Civil Partnership

 Song of Solomon 8: 6-7

1 John 4: 7-12

John 15:12-16                                                  


Batter my heart, three-person'd God, for you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seek to mend;
That I may rise and stand, o'erthrow me, and bend
Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new.[1]

There’s more to love than fluffy bunnies and Valentine’s hearts, as the Song of Solomon reminds us. Love is, “strong as death… fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame”. There is something wild, untamed, uncontrollable, about love. It’s a risky business.

And that is because love is in the business of finding us, getting to know us, and saving us. Saving us from the webs of illusion in which we humans find ourselves ensnared. The illusion, which is very dear to us, that we are the centre of our universe, creating ourselves and determining our own value. 

Whereas love comes at us as grace, unlooked for, non-negotiable, with the offer of a true identity which is mysteriously given and can only be received. Love is the army in the parable, coming against us with a superior force, requiring us to give up all our possessions, that is, all the ways in which we create and hold on to our false identities.

“Love one another”, says Jesus, in our Gospel reading, and John, in the Epistle. The challenge is not just to love other people, although that matters. Loving one another is reciprocal. It is mutual. It means that we have to be prepared to be loved, ourselves. And, in fact, we can’t know what love means unless we allow that to happen. “In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that God loved us.”

Allowing ourselves to be loved can be the hardest part of all. So often we can engage in all sorts of transactional games, patronage, dispensing our bounty, and think that we are loving others. Unaware of how much we are bargaining and controlling all the time. It is only in learning to be loved ourselves that love breaks through the illusion of our self-sufficiency. Love alone can save us from the ultimate loss, which is the failure to accept that we are loved. 

John Donne, whose verse I opened with, knew a thing or two about our human resistance to being loved, and the pain of its overcoming. So too did George Herbert:

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,
                             I cannot look on thee.
Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,
                            Who made the eyes but I?[2]

Love does this, comes at us, persistently, indefatigably, come what may. No wonder it is fierce, strong, a raging flame. 

But it is a strange fierceness. If love can find no other way of breaking through our illusions, than to come to us as a helpless baby, or to be shown to us as a rejected man dying on a cross, then that is what love will do. 

And it is a slow fierceness, wildly slow, because love has all the time in the world. It is the glacial erosion of our hardened hearts, grinding through the geological layers of our unawareness, uncovering the jewels that have lain hidden even to ourselves, until love found them out. 

For most of us, the experience of love, love that knows who we are through and through, and wants to be with us anyway, is mediated through the love of partners, friends, or family. 

For most of us, daily life with other people who will not give up on us, if we will allow that, is the path by which our illusions are gradually worn away. It is the conversion of life by which we are constantly drawn out from our obsession with ourselves. It is the commitment to stay with reality until we become real. 

We can leave it to the mystics to experience the overthrowing power of love by the direct union that most of us could not bear. Most of us are not Teresa of Avila. But even mystics, soaring aloft on the direct intuition of love beyond understanding, need their communities, the people who are under vows not to run away from them, no matter how bizarre they may become. 

Love, for most of us, is mediated by the person or community who will see who we are through all our illusions and guilt and shame, through the self-image that we create but know is false, and love us for who we are, anyway. And, in so doing, will show us who we are, in a way we could never have known by ourselves.

Your commitment to each other, in your Civil Partnership, is just this. It says that you are, to each other, the people you want to become real with. It points to the intention and shape of lives lived, to be lived, with each other and for each other. 

And because it is love that is bringing this about, your partnership does not create a closed-in space just for yourselves, but a place of hospitality and welcome, the mutuality of loving one another which has to flow out and make other connections, in which others too can find their place: those who are already part of your family, and the communities and relationships in which you share. Including those of us today who are with you in person or in spirit, giving thanks, celebrating, and supporting you, for you and with you in the great interwoven tapestry of mutuality and belonging that love creates. 

So this is a day of great joy, for all that it is wildly risky. Love is strong, fierce, a raging flame. But the risk is only to the false self, which must die anyway, for that is the meaning of the Gospels. 

May you discover who you are in your mutuality of loving one another, as everything that is not you is overthrown in love, mediated through the daily business of sticking with reality until you become real.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:
                             So I did sit and eat.

Fr Matthew Duckett
22nd June 2024

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