Homily: “On Love Itself as Understanding”

Offered by Father Matthew Dallman, Obl.S.B., for the Parish of Tazewell County on the Sixth Sunday after Trinity (Seventh Sunday after Pentecost), 2018.

Our Collect today invites our prayer to a profound truth, despite its wording being rather commonplace, and even cliche. It begins with these words: “O God, you have taught us to keep all your commandments by loving you and our neighbor.” What this reflects is the fact that knowledge and love are all the same—that, for Christians, love itself is understanding (William of St Thierry, Exposition on the Song of Songs, 57.) What we do, our actions, our behavior, our prayer, must, if it is going to be Christian action, Christian behavior, Christian prayer, live out our beliefs. Our words that profess what we believe throughout the Liturgy of the Church, whether in Mass or daily Offices, have to find expression in our bodily actions—concretely, actually, and palpably. For us, taught by Jesus Christ and learning within the fellowship of the Church, knowledge and love are all the same: Love itself is understanding.

Our Collect this week continues with these words: “Grant us the grace of your Holy Spirit, that we may be devoted to you with our whole heart, and united to one another with pure affection.” What we do that is good and holy and upright, we always do by means of the Holy Spirit. We see in the Scriptures that the experience of the Holy Spirit is one of wind, of fire, and of peace. By the figure of wind, we mean being emboldened, strengthened, and energized. By the figure of fire, we mean transformed, zealous, and contagious. And by the figure of peace, we mean sharing in the heavenly grace of Christ Crucified and Resurrected. By the grace of the Holy Spirit, we become what we have received—we have received the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist, and so we become sacraments, dismissed and sent into the world in peace so that we can be peace to others—so that we can embody peace, be peace incarnate for others in Tazewell County and the world.

And yet, just because we are sacraments of peace for the world, does not mean the world will necessarily receive us in that way. It is a pattern shown in Ezekiel, chapter 2, and recapitulated by Jesus when He returned to His own country and His own kin in the sixth chapter of Saint Mark. Ezekiel, entered into by the Spirit, was set on his feet by the Spirit. He was sent to preach about God to a people that had transgressed against Him. “Thus says the Lord God” is a prophecy of judgement against infidelity to God, uttered by the Holy Spirit through those filled by the Holy Spirit—spoken through the prophets chosen by God, because God chooses to work through creatures to make His will known. There are hints in the text that Ezekiel’s prophetic status was in doubt—twice saying “whether they hear or refuse to hear.” The people, these rebellious souls who oppose God, would not refuse to hear if they recognized the prophetic utterances as God speaking through Ezekiel, indeed, recognizing him as a sacramental presence. But they cannot do so. They are unable.

Likewise the kin-folk of Jesus are unable. They cannot see Him as the primordial sacrament of God’s presence. They see Him as something, to be sure—something unusual, spectacular, almost magical. They see him as people today might see David Copperfield, the professional magician who seems to accomplish astonishing mighty works that are unusual and spectacular. And yet notice, they are missing the message. The deepest truth of the identity of Jesus—that He is the primordial sacrament of God’s presence, that He is God become man, the Eternal Word become flesh, that He dwells among us—was lost on them, went right over their heads.

The people around us in Tazewell County might also miss the message of who we are. They might not see us as agents of peace—agents of peace that passes all understanding. Our identity as sacramental persons dismisses to be the living bread for the world—that we do what Jesus told the disciples to do, to go to the people and give them something to eat—might go over the heads of our brothers and sisters in Tazewell County. Is this what we would prefer? Surely not, because Jesus marveled because of His kinsfolk unbelief. But look and see: despite being mocked, ignored, and misunderstood, Jesus was not deterred from His mission—He laid His hands upon a few sick people, and healed them.

Let us be emboldened by the example of our loving and most compassionate Lord Jesus: we do not need to reach the masses, we do not need to convert in large numbers within the town we live. We might prefer it, but to accord with the example of Jesus, let us go undeterred to the sick among us, indeed to the lonely among us—laying our hands upon them by being with them, accompanying them. For the lonely in Tazewell County, let us be filled with the Holy Spirit, that we may be for them the living bread, and feed them with our attention, feed them with our presence, feed them with the peace which passes all understanding. Love itself is understanding. Let us show Jesus that we understand Him through our love.