HOMILY for the 19th Thurs (II)
“No man is an island”, it’s said. And how true that is. This was so evident as we recalled last night the centuries of benefactors, collaborators and friends who have worked and prayed together with us friars to bring us to this day, to the building of this chapel with this Altar, now duly dedicated, at its heart. In a sense, this chapel reminds us of the debt of gratitude that we owe to those who have gone before us, to those who make up our community today, and above all, to God.
But one thing I increasingly realize, especially living in community, is that because none of us is an island, nobody is self-sufficient and in-dependent of another. We need one another, and we rely on one another to work, build, and celebrate together. And this is to be expected because as human persons we are essentially relational, born into a family community, and then, gradually joining other communities and networks. It is from these communities, from our relationship with others and our dependence on them that we find meaning, and also find ourselves. So, we are each indebted to the other, closely knitted in community by bonds of mutual need and trust, by bonds of love.
And where there is love, there is no accounting of what one owes another, for love gives freely and unremittingly. Many friendships and relationships break down when it becomes unbalanced because one party feels more indebted to the other. Whereas the reality is that our fundamental human interdependence means that we are, ultimately, each in debt to one another. We have a mutual need for the other, and above all, we all are united in our need of God who has lovingly given us all that is; we owe him everything we have.
Thus, only God is in a position of independence, of self-sufficiency, of not owing another anything. The problem with keeping an account of what another person owes me, of unforgiveness, then, is that we think we’re owed rather than owing; we think we’re Master over another. But, in fact, only God is Master, only he is owed without owing anything.
Hence, unforgiveness towards our brothers and sisters, our fellow Man, is a kind of hubris, a certain idolatry in which we think ourselves to be God, to be superior to a brother or sister. But God, our Father, is not like that. He doesn’t behave, thankfully, as we would if we were in charge! For we find that God is forgiveness, ever merciful and ready to relent. For God is love. And he desires friendship with us, so he keeps no account of what we owe him but forgives us our debts. Hence, it’s also said that “to forgive is divine”, and God wants us to share, through the grace and mercy of Christ, in his divinity.
All this is symbolized by the Altar which is Christ in our midst. Christ, who is our peace and reconciliation; Christ who, therefore, asks us to forgive one another before approaching the Altar, for it is a symbol of divine forgiveness. As the Cardinal said last night in the Prayer of Dedication, this Altar has been made by God to be “a place of communion and peace… [and] a source of unity and friendship, where [God’s] people may gather as one to share [God’s] spirit of mutual love”. So, for all these gifts of God, for all that we owe him, we give God thanks. We approach the Altar, and make our Eucharist: the Eucharist of the Son to the Father, in which we’re graciously allowed to share.