In these days of regular Corona-virus updates from the government, there would be an irony in having the person charged with speaking, being unable to speak distinctly. Some people think the Church is like that. How often have we heard people say, “The Church should speak out more clearly about this or that”? It may be the evils of war or capitalism or abortion or any number of other issues. But it’s never the evils which the people complaining actually commit. Everybody wants the Church to take a stand against the things which other people are doing. If we were to make an inventory of the sins which were actually being committed in this parish, and preach against them, there would be an almighty outcry.
Nobody likes having his or her own faults pointed out. I don’t like it myself. But we should be a shallow sort of Church if we were forever campaigning about what other people were doing, and didn’t look into our own hearts and set about changing what we found there. Our Lord himself tells us that’s what we should be doing: not trying to take the splinter out of somebody else’s eye, but taking the plank out of our own. Our Lord also, in today’s Gospel, tells us how to avoid one of the faults we most commonly commit. If our brother does something wrong, we should, in the first instance, go and have it out with him alone, between our two selves.
So often, when we think we have a grievance against our brother or, it may be, our sister, we have it out with everyone except the person concerned. We tell the butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker, everybody except the person with whom we are at odds. In this way we deepen the rift that has opened up between us and our neighbour, and involve far more people than is necessary.
Saint Paul backs up our Lord’s teaching when he tells us, ‘All the commandments are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself.’ To refuse to be reconciled to our neighbour, and to involve others in our quarrel, is not to love our neighbour as ourself. It is not to love our neighbour at all. But to love our neighbour as ourself is, as Paul says, the answer to every one of the commandments.
I would be very happy if these notes actually helped us to love our neighbour. Sometimes people are kind enough to tell me that they liked my homily. Sometimes they are honest enough to tell me that they didn’t like it. But the point is, not whether you liked it or not, but whether it changed you. Whether you did anything about it. Whether you came to Mass the next week a different person because of it. The most important part of a homily is what you did about it after it was preached.
So this week, could I ask you, as your response to these notes, to go away and love your neighbour as yourself. Forget the rest of what is written. Don’t worry about whether you liked it or whether you didn’t like it, whether it was too long or too short, whether it was too funny or too serious. Just love your neighbour as yourself. At the Judgement day you won’t be asked to give a critique of your Deacon’s homily or notes. You’ll be asked, ‘Did you love your neighbour as yourself?’