Sixth Sunday of Easter: Re-humanise the world

Sixth Sunday of Easter: Re-humanise the world

Readings: Acts 10; Psalm 98; 1 Jn 4; Gospel John 15:9-17

Homily held for the 9.30 community at Blackfriars, Oxford.

The readings of today talk about ‘Love’. It’s one of those words that are most used, and maybe also misused in our daily life, still it is not easy to approach it. In order to try to reach its core, I would like to begin in the other end so to speak. I have in mind the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik and the ongoing trial against him. He killed 77 people last summer, most of them adolescents. For hours, days and weeks case after case is being described in detail. Relatives, friends and all of us really, are weeping silently over the loss of innocent lives.
The national and international press tends to present the accused as a being without emotions or conscience. We do not want to identify us with this man, and we push him out of the zone of recognition. He is not like us. But by treating him in this way, the press risks expressing exactly the same attitude as the defendant does. Because Breivik himself does not talk about people, boys and girls, moms and dads. He talks about goals, strategies, sacrifices, achievements and politics. We cannot respond to him in the same way. To try to dehumanise Anders Breivik is deeply wrong and unjust. Breivik is just as much a human being as any of us here today. Why then, this alienation of this person?
I believe it is because Breivik also shows an aspect of something that is true of both humanity and our society, an aspect that neither the press nor we who follow the trial want to see. As we observe this person, we are also confronted with a society that is developing a mode of life where its individuals can be totally lost. And in their isolation they may lose contact with reality. We see, and are also part of, a society where responsibility is being moved around, we see signs of an ever less-personal system that in the end leads to a terrible, and dangerous, isolation. We are members of a society that are more and more divided into layers.
A few days ago, one of the brethren spoke with great enthusiasm of a novel called ‘The city and the city’. It is to be found in the shelves of ‘Fantasy’ and ‘Science Fiction’. It describes two cities that in a kind of double layered world actually occupy much of the same geographical space. However, the habitants of the two cities do not interact with each other, and if so should happen, even accidentally, it is considered to be a crime worse than murder.

Now I can see by the expression on some of the faces here that you are asking ‘How could such a double world possibly exist? Wouldn’t they bump into each other? And what about Tesco? On a Friday afternoon, it’s already pretty crowdy!’ Well. To get those answers, I guess you’ll have to read the book yourselves, or track down the brother who mentioned this in the first place. However, we don’t need to read Science-Fiction in order to observe such blindness in a society. Just think of how easily we pass the homeless in the streets. Or drug addicted. Or teenagers hanging out at MacDonald’s. Or elderly people in institutions or sitting alone in their homes or on benches around in town. We live in a society whose members are segregated, a society that teaches us to say: ‘This is not my responsibility’. Where we learn to cry out: ‘Someone’s got to take care of this!’
We may not even need to go leave this house of prayer to see these tendencies. There might be peoples within our own community that we do not really know. Or we might know something about them, enough to keep a certain distance. Even in our own family, and maybe especially there, we live sometimes at an infinite distance from each other, in spite of our proximity in daily life. In the end, the layers of our society, and the filter through which we observe the world and make our choices, are rooted in our own hearts. The Second Vatican Constitution ‘Gaudium et Spes’, points at this reality as it concludes: ‘Man is split within himself. As a result, all of human life, whether individual or collective, shows itself to be a dramatic struggle between good and evil, between light and darkness’ (GS 13).

Dear brothers and sisters, we are not gathered here because it is convenient, because we may benefit from it, as if we were on a market place. We are here because we find ourselves in profound need of healing. Our healing consists in restoring our ability to love. And this is, in fact, also the precious gift we have been given by God himself: ‘It was not you who chose me, but I who chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit that will remain’. This fruit is the gift of loving one another. We are called to break the conventions rooted in fear and conformity, conventions that hold us back from fulfilling our mission of love. We are called, not to dehumanise the world, but to re-humanise it.
This means that in spite of the terrible actions of the Norwegian terrorist, we have to defend him; not his actions which are beyond comprehension, but his humanity. In our daily life, we have to ask ourselves if we have become too comfortable with the divisions in our society. Do we care for those around us, even if they don’t belong to our immediate sphere of interaction? And in family life, we are called to slow down, and look into ourselves with honesty and humility. How do we relate to each other? Do we really talk together? Do we give of ourselves?
But what if we find that we do not fulfil the commandments we are given today? Let us then remember that we the body of Christ, and in Christ we receive life, strength and humility to grow in love both to God and to each other.

Bror Haavar Simon Nilsen OP

fr Haavar Simon Nilsen is a son of the French Province, resident in his native Norway. He studied for a masters degree in Applied Theology at Blackfriars, Oxford.