Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP: We can be friends even with God


The Centurion. Photo: Supplied.

This is the edited text of the homily given by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP for Mass of the sixth Sunday of Easter at the shrine of St Mary MacKillop, North Sydney, 5 May 2024.

The idea of the ‘golden ticket’ was first popularised in Roald Dahl’s 1964 novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its subsequent film adaptations.

A poor paperboy named Charlie Bucket has his life turned upside down when he finds a golden ticket in a chocolate bar, inviting him to visit Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. He tours the chocolate palace with four other children: the gluttonous Augustus Gloop, the snobby Veruca Salt, the impulsive Violet Beauregarde, and Mike Teavee usually glued to his eponymous screen. As they tour the factory, each one manifests and succumbs to his or her personality flaws, and one by one they are sent home. The last remaining is the pure-hearted and patient Charlie, who exhibits precisely the traits Wonka seeks in an heir to his chocolate empire.

Though it was Charlie’s character that won him and his family this change of fortune, it was the golden ticket that gave him the chance to shine. Part of what makes the story so compelling is its sense of “providence” or the relationship between divine destiny and human desserts.

In our first reading (Acts 10:25-48), we meet Cornelius, a Roman centurion, who along with his household were the first Gentile converts to Christianity. At this early stage of the Church, there was confusion about the identity and mission of Jesus’ disciples. Were they to be a sect of Jews or something new? A missionary church sent to all the world, or more about renewing Israel from within? How much of Torah were they expected to observe? Were Gentiles to be admitted to their ranks and, if so, on what terms? The canonical rigourists wanted the whole Jewish Law obeyed, down to last jot and tittle. The spiritual libertarians counted themselves free of the shackles of tradition. The Christian position would ultimately be somewhere in-between but would take some time to crystallise. But today Cornelius gets the golden ticket.

Like Charlie Bucket, Cornelius was an unlikely heir to the promises. After all, he was a gentile, a first lieutenant of the occupying forces, stationed with the Italian regiment in Caesarea, capital of Roman Judea. Yet he was righteous and prayerful, well-respected even by the Jews, and regular in works of mercy (Acts 10:2,22). At the angel’s direction he sends for Simon-Peter, who was then staying in Caesarea. On Peter’s arrival, the centurion prostrates himself as if before a god or angel. Peter lifts him to his feet, insisting he’s a mere mortal. His point is clear: as I have knelt before the Lord Jesus, Son of the living God, you should reserve this for Him also. After Peter announces to Cornelius’ household that God is for everyone, not just the Jews, the Spirit descends upon them, and Peter cannot resist baptising them. It was becoming clear that there are not just golden tickets for one chosen people: “God has no favourites”; His boundless love is for all.

But what is love? Our culture gives many answers: it’s a feeling, a sentiment, a vibe—muddle in the head, butterflies in the belly, lust in the loins. It’s deep affection or fatal attraction, something you fall into or out of. We can “love” football, ice-cream or some celebrity we’ve never met, “make love” to someone whose name we don’t remember the next day, or romanticise love in Valentine’s cards, love songs and romantic movies. Love has many counterfeits. Yet still we crave it.

In our epistle (1Jn 4:11-16) and gospel (Jn 15:9-17) today, we get John’s take on love. As “the disciple Jesus loved” and the one to whom Jesus entrusted His mother, John was good at friendship. For John, love is the Christian golden ticket. For him God is love; this God so loved the world He gave His only Son, gave Him to live with us, die for us, and complete His redeeming love in us. Our response must be to acknowledge Him as Son of God, keep His commandments, live in His Spirit, above all, love like Him. Love one another as I have loved you, with a love that lays down its life for the beloved. God is your friend: be friends to Him and one another.

Unlike Wonka’s few golden tickets, the Christian tokens are given out unsparingly. God’s love is too big to be reserved to just one tribe. If Roman centurions want to be part of the family, bring them in. But know that this kind of love makes its demands. It is a self-sacrificing, ordered, commandment love. It’s more about the good of the beloved than the emotional gratification of the lover. In that old sentimental favourite, Paul’s Corinthian hymn to love (1 Cor 13), he says love is patient and kind, not jealous or proud; it’s long-suffering and forgiving, not angry and bitter; it hopes and endures, never giving up. Sounds warm and fuzzy, but Paul’s point is a challenging one: real love will test your patience, negative emotions will come to the surface, there will be temptations to resentment and quitting. The question is: will you keep on loving anyway, like Christ who loved and forgave even from the cross?

Sydney has recently known what seems to be religiously motivated terror. A religious leader was stabbed in church and lost his eye. Attacks on religion, or on religious leaders and faithful, are increasingly common in this country, if rarely so physical. Assaults on religious liberty are a feature even of some lawmaking, as in the so-called “Equality Bill” presently before the NSW parliament. We will do what we reasonably can to stand up for our rights. We will continue to press governments to treat believers fairly and enable religions to keep doing the good they do. But in the end we will forgive, pray, love in the name of the Lord Jesus.

Christian love makes its demands: If you love me, you will keep my commandments; if you keep my commands, you will remain in my love. It might sound strange to associate love and law: after all, we can’t command our sentiments. But this prioritised loving commits to the good of the other, whatever the cost to self. It expresses that love appropriately: some actions are out, always unreasonable, negative moral absolutes; other actions are in, guides to the good life. It knows who to put first in our loving, who next, and next. St Thomas Aquinas even discusses whether we should love our mother or father more, our spouse or parents, ourselves or neighbours!  That might sound strange, but if we are to love God before all things and others as ourselves (Mt 22:36-40), to love one another as Christ loved us, to love not just relatives and friends, but neighbours, needy and nemeses—then we have to learn the art of loving, its rules and rhythms. We have to go to the school of Christian loving that is the Church, to its Word and sacraments and works of mercy.

But hard as loving well can be, Jesus has planted the ticket of love into the chocolate bar of our hearts. We are made for loving. Today He makes it clear that we can be friends even with God, as if we were God’s equals, sharing a common life with Him (Jn 15:14). For the ancients that seemed impossible: God and us are just too different, too far apart. For many moderns, too: God doesn’t experience our emotions or intersect with our needs. But in Jesus, God has come close and has made us His intimates. It’s our golden ticket. So love well!

The post Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP: We can be friends even with God appeared first on The Catholic Weekly.

Your custom text © Copyright 2024. All rights reserved.