25 Oct 2020

St. Mary’s Basilica Sydney + livestream, 25 October 2020

The first live TV show broadcast globally by satellite was “Our World” in 1967. Artists such as Maria Callas and Pablo Picasso performed for an estimated 400 million people. The British contribution was written by John Lennon and performed by the Beatles.“All You Need Is Love” was then included in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and their animated film Yellow Sub-marine (1968). It’s one of the first pop songs I remember – which certainly ages me. But fear not, I haven’t brought my guitar along today…

When people hear Our Lord’s teaching (Mt 22:34-40) , that loving God and neighbour is the greatest commandment, they might think Jesus was a proto-hippie. After all, He was countercultural, into peace, talked universal love. Add long hair and a beard, and all that’s missing is the guitar…

However, there’s a lot more going on in our Gospel than the utopianism of the ’67 Summer of Love, which was big on intimacy and good feelings but rather vague on the details of the good life. After singing the chorus of “All You Need Is Love” many times some probably thought there was nothing more to be said. Love is, after all, impassioned, impulsive, even chaotic…

Today, Jesus takes two commandments, from two different Old Testament books (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18), knits them together as one, and promotes them to top commandment. Yet He maintains that there is a certain order between them: loving God comes first, then loving self, and loving neighbour comes third or a close equal-second. St Thomas Aquinas takes this further, asking why we should love in that order; whether we should prefer those closest to us or those who are best; whether we should love children or parents more; whether the order of charity endures in the afterlife; and so on.[1] Not all loves are equal, then. Some have priority, at least in some circumstances. Some are less worthy, over-sentimental, controlling. All of which means there is some logic to love after all, some order amidst the emotional chaos.

It might sound rather mathematical, even autistic, to attempt to bring order into the madness of love. But at the heart of Jesus’ teaching was a second affective truth. We love God first and foremost because He is the why of everything else, the why of the lover, of the beloved, of the love. When His love inspires ours, it leads us to love ourselves in all humility, and our fellows also. We care even for the stranger. But we rightly consider some our intimates, our ‘nearest and dearest’. Someone who says she loves everyone equally does indeed love everyone equally – because she loves no-one. Love includes preference. And if people in pandemics think loving health comes before everything else, or that loving the economy comes next, Jesus has news for them: there are some things that matter as much or more!

Thirdly, attending closely to today’s text we notice that loving God doesn’t just come first: it demands “all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind”. So it’s not just about feelings, like hippie love. Important as feelings are, we must be sure to love the right persons or things, in the right ways. Godly love draws the whole person, intellect and will, emotions and beliefs. To others we give our most, or our much, but to God we give our all. Then, paradoxically, having given God all our love, our heart is enlarged to love many others, and better, and more…

When people hear today’s Gospel, most miss what Jesus says after He gives the double commandment, but here lies a fourth takeaway: “On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets also,” He says. Once love is our ‘fundamental option’, our ‘strategic plan’, our ‘guiding paradigm’, step 2 is nutting out with our ‘heart and soul and mind’ the consequences for daily life. The love commandment doesn’t render Scripture and Tradition, or law and prophecy, null and void. Rather, love inspires, informs, interprets and applies them. What the hippie love of the Beatles missed is that big things like faith, hope and love need little, everyday expressions. So we need guidance for doing love amidst the complexities of life, about the logic of loving big and well, in the little things.

So there’s an order of loving, and God comes first, then ourselves and our fellows, and this affects the whole person, the whole of life, and must be expressed in deeds. Our other readings today give us some pointers on what sorts of deeds. No violence, exploitation, prejudice, God says to Moses today (Ex 22:20-26). You are Fratelli Tutti, all sisters and brothers, all in this together. So care for the widow and orphan, the poor and vulnerable, the voiceless and disappeared. Our love – our voices – should make them seen and heard, make them the neighbours we love as ourselves.

Throughout the Bible God praises those who hear the cries of the poor and the demands of righteousness, and deplores those who do not.[2] When we love with heart and soul and mind, the right things in the right order, we can do so much that is good for the voiceless and for others. Once we have those things straight, we can indeed sing with our lives All You Need Is Love.

Bishop Thomas Muldoon slapped my face once! In those days, at Confirmation, after calling down the Holy Spirit and anointing us with Chrism, the bishop would give us a good smack, especially the cheekier looking boys. It was redolent of the military gesture whereby a newly minted knight was ‘accoladed’, slapped by one or all the other knights. Fear not, dear Candidates, I will be gentle. Yet you are called today to become ‘soldiers for Christ’. Not so you can coerce people into joining him. For Christians the battle is more often an internal one: the struggle with our own personalities, weaknesses, vanities and temptations.

Whether the spiritual battles are within or without, Christian maturity is not for the fainthearted. It takes toughness to keep loving when the loving is hard, to be faithful when infidelity is so tempting, to be hopeful when our weakness inclines us to despondency. The enduring love that founds all the stages of the Beatitudes, that serves with fidelity through thick and thin, this is the chivalry our world needs and Christ commissions today. If you are ready for such a mission, stand up now to profess your faith before this assembly.


Before Genuflecting

Because current circumstances continue to impede attendance at Mass and reception of Holy Communion, I invite those who are joining us by live-streaming to ask God that by spiritual communion you might receive the graces of sacramental communion. Offer this Mass and your hunger for the Eucharist for the safety of your loved ones, of yourselves and of our world.


Today our brothers and sisters were confirmed, as temples of the Holy Spirit, soldiers for Christ, missionary disciples, Christian lovers, ‘servants of the living, God’ (1 Thess 1:5-10). To you I say: resolve now to keep alive the grace you have received, by regular prayer and sacrament, especially Sunday Mass and Confession, by spiritual and corporal works of mercy, and by sharing your faith with others.

To your sponsors, relatives, friends and fellow parishioners, I say: you are now charged with supporting them in their new Christian maturity and mission. Help them apply the gifts of the Holy Spirit in lives of Christian faith and practice, of virtue and holiness, of the worship of God and love for all.

To all who took part in their preparation and this celebration, my thanks. And to the newly confirmed, our warm congratulations!

[1]     St Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae IIa IIae 26.

[2]    Jer 5:21; Isa 6:9-10 etc.; Mt 13:13-14; Jn 12:40; Acts 28:26; Rom 11:8.

Welcome to St Mary’s Basilica in Sydney, whether physically or virtually, for the Solemn Mass of the 30th Sunday of Ordinary Time.

Happily, there has been some minor easing of restrictions on churches and worship of late, bringing them into line with similar venues and activities. This has helped megachurches and cathedrals but more than 95% of churches remain restricted to fewer than 100 because of the 4m2 rule. We give thanks to God for the low rates of transmission of COVID-19 at this time in our city and state, and pray for those who are dying, sick or at risk in Europe, Britain, America and elsewhere.

I am pleased today to welcome several adult candidates for Confirmation. I acknowledge also their pastors, catechists, sponsors, families and friends, whether here or joining us by live-streaming. A very warm (and wet!) welcome to you all.