Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP Homily: True love is a sincere gift of self

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Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP celebrates with parishioners at St Anthony’s, Clovelly, on their centenary, May 21. PHOTOS: Alphonsus Fok

Like many people’s lives, the 1999 film The Mummy, and its 2001 sequel The Mummy Returns, are part action-adventure, part horror, part comedy and part romance. It’s a loose remake of the 1932 classic starring Boris Karloff. Amongst other things, we are presented with two parallel love stories. On the one hand, there’s the affair between the Mummy, Imhotep, high priest to Pharaoh Seti I, and his beloved, Anck-Su-Namun, the Pharaoh’s mistress, which caused them to be cursed in the first place; on the other hand, there is the burgeoning love between our heroes, the former French foreign legionnaire Rick (played by Brendan Fraser), and the budding Egyptologist Evie (played by Rachel Weisz). The love between the first two is of epic proportions, while the second is rather more mundane.

The sign of peace at the parish of St Anthony’s, Clovelly, during their centenary Mass. PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

At the end of the second movie, both Imhotep and Rick are hanging from a cliff over a pit that leads to the underworld, unable to climb up, while rock stalactites rain from the ceiling threatening to gore them. It’s the sort of scene you expect in such movies, and which no doubt has played out many times from the cliffs of Clovelly during the century-long life of this parish! Without hesitation Evie risks her life to save Rick and help him climb up, while Anck-Su-Namun runs away in fear. While the love between the man-Mummy and lady-Mummy might seem to have lasted two millennia, it was in fact a selfish and thus self-destructive love: when push came to shove, it found no voice in action. Rick and Evie’s love, by contrast, was willing to sacrifice itself for others and so able to grow and endure.

In our Gospel today (Jn 14:15-21) Our Lord continues His catechesis on love which you might say was His entire mission. But He does something rather strange, on the face of it, connecting love and truth, compassion and being law-abiding. “If you love me,” He says, “you will keep my commandments. Because I love you I will never abandon you but will send you the Spirit of Truth. To love me is to keep my commandments; anyone who does so will be loved by me and by my Father.” What is clear here is that not everything that goes by the name of love is true love. Love can be banal, obsessive, lustful, jealous, stifling, destructive. It can be all talk but no action, an enchanting love song but in the end just sentiment and rhetoric. Jesus’ thought for us today is that true love of others, above all of God, must be expressed in deeds of generous self-giving, in a life lived in accordance with God’s will.

PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

So when St. Peter writes to us today (1Pet 3:15-18), calling on us to reverence the Lord with all our hearts and be ever-ready to give people a reason for our hope, he makes it clear he’s not asking us to stand on soap boxes and tell people off. No, he calls for courtesy and respect, enduring wrong rather than ever perpetrating it, patiently living a good life. It is that kind of love-in-action that Peter thinks will draw others in, whether in ancient Rome or modern Clovelly.

And what is the great commandment Jesus gives? ‘Love one another as I have loved you’ (Jn 13:34). Nothing could be more simple, and more difficult. So difficult, in fact, that we simply can’t do it on our own. And so Christ promises us the Παράκλητον (Parakleton) a divine advocate, consoler, protector, accompanier. He will make it possible for us to live according to the commandments of love. And as we saw in our first reading, that Spirit comes as a gift at Baptism and Confirmation (Acts 8:5-8, 14-17).

The Christian life, then, individually and as the parish community of St Anthony, is about living the truth in love, following the commandments of love, so conforming our minds and hearts to Christ’s as to become free and expansive and self-giving lovers, rather than mummified, inward–looking, self-serving ones. The patron of this parish, St. Anthony of Padua, is dear to me as my name-saint. He wonderfully embodied both the spirit of truth, giving reasons to all who asked, and the commandment of love, demonstrating that compassion memorialised in ‘St Anthony’s Bread’. So truthful were his words of preaching and so authentic his life of loving that when his remains were moved they found his tongue had remained incorrupt, as it still is to this day, eight centuries after he died. Though he was a Franciscan like Fr Phil and the Friars who first ministered in this parish, his love of learning and rhetoric might seem very Dominican; but he proved his Franciscan credentials, when people of a coastal village like Clovelly wouldn’t listen to him, by going down to the sea and preaching to the fish!

PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

I’m not sure how much preaching to the sharks goes on here at Clovelly today, but I know the parish has shown hospitality to all comers, including refugees and the poor, and indigenous and other young people of Broome during the World Youth Day. It maintains a lively sacramental and devotional life, an active music ministry, and is generous to the needy through Project Compassion and other avenues.

You articulate your mission as “to know Christ and make him known … to discover Christ present in each person through our ministry to each other, our service to the wider community, the joyful celebration of the Eucharist and other sacraments, and our active concern for social justice.” After 100 years of progress in that mission much has been achieved. But there is still much to do: the last census found attendance at Sunday Mass in this area was about half the average rate in Sydney. My big birthday challenge to you, then, is to recommit to offering the spirit of truth, the life of love, the reasons for hope, to your neighbours, bringing Christ to the world and the world back to Christ.

With that challenge as your particular birthday present, let me wish you all a very happy birthday. Thanks be to God for you!

This is the edited text of the homily by Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP for the Mass of 6th Sunday of Easter, Year A, (centenary of Clovelly Parish), at St Anthony of Padua parish, Clovelly on May 21, 2017.