When I was growing up, Alec Bedser’s international career was just coming to an end; but he and his twin brother Eric were stalwarts of the Surrey cricket team for a year or two longer. Neither brother married, and they lived together in the same house until Eric’s death in 2006. Alec died four years later.
They were ‘identical twins’, and even later in life, those who did not know them well would have difficulty inidentifying which was which. But much more disconcerting, apparently, was their tendency to complete each other’s sentences, so that it seemed that you could never be quite sure which one you were talking to.
For most human beings, however, true love is not shown by the two people becoming carbon copies of each other, but remaining distinct persons, and yet being totally committed to the other’s welfare. For one person to take over the other would be domination, and domination is stifling; whereas true human love is encouraging. A couple fully in love would wish each one to grow to their full potential, and know with complete certainty that this very fulfilment would be better for both partners. So Kahlil Gibran had this advice for those who are married: Sing and dance together, and be joyous, but let each of you be alone, as the strings of the lute are alone, though they quiver with the same music. Stand together, but not too near together; for the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak and the cypress do not grow in each other’s shadow.
True love is creative: we could think of the vast numbers of poems, songs, ballads, paintings, sculptures, architectural works, which have been produced as monuments to love. Muchmore important, however, is the way that the love between two human beings is to be found in creating children, works of love who can be loved by the parents and can grow to love the parents in turn. So true human love produces a communion of persons, each remaining different from the others, but united nonetheless in this wonderful fellowship of family love.
We don’t have perfect families, of course; but our own expereinces of family life nevertheless show us the reality of love in action, and awaken in us the possibilities of even greater and more perfect love. Perhaps it is because we are all prone to mistakes, to sin, and, of course, we are all mortal, that this imperfect family love becomes even more important for us. We recall that when the samaritans asked Our Lord about marriage, he said that there is no marrying in heaven because there is no death! So if we were each perfect, would we need others who are different from us? Is it only because we are not perfect, that we need others to love, and we need to be loved by others, and together we need to be creative in love, so that there will be something good lasting beyond ourselves? But thathardly seems to be right; if we were perfect, we would not love ourselves – for such narcissistic love is unhealthy; and yet – could anything be perfect, without love? Surely love is such an important emotion and act of the will that the world would always be poorer without it.
So could God be perfect without love? The difference, of course, is that God does not need something other than God to be complete. So even before creation, God is love; but real healthy love must always be focussed on another. So within God there must be another: there is one God, but within that one God there must in some way be two, who are equal to each other, but distinct as the lover and the beloved. And then again, this love must be creative: so the love of the lover for the beloved, and the love of the beloved for the lover, must provide a third within God, equal to the other two, but distinct. And so we celebrate the Feast of the Blessed Trinity: that within the one God there are Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: the Father who loves the Son; the Son who is loved by the Father; that the Holy Spirit, who is produced by the love of the Father and the Son, so that the Father and the Son are united in love for the Holy Spirit.
This was the case before time began; before creation. And we know that the universe exists only by the will of God, who created it by his Word and by his Spirit: so the lover, the beloved, and the Spirit who is loved by them both, are all involved in creating the universe, and ourselves as part of it. But just as any loving creation within our universe will show the abilities of its maker, so also our Universe must contain within itself the imprint of the love between the three Divine Persons. And this love can be shown in our human families, and in the Church.
So our reflections on the Church in our diocese, and in our own parish, which we have been undertaking over the past few weeks, must continue within this atmosphere of love: for without love, we will have missed out an essential ingredient. Our communion must be a loving communion, or it cannot be christian. This christian love will have two aspects: love of God, and love of our neighbour, the two greatest laws which between them contain the wholeof the Law and the Prophets, as Our Lord told the lawyer. But because the love of our christian communion must be a share in the love of God, we can see that there must be two movements in christian love: for just as the Father loves the Son and the Son loves the Father, so we must love one another within our christian communion. As Tertullian said in his Apology: See how these christians love one another.
But also, just as the Father and the Son share in their love for the Holy Spirit, so also any good christian communion must love those who are not members. Our love cannot be inward-looking, or it will not be healthy; it will run the risk of degenerating into narcissism. Bishop Malcolm used to say (and perhaps still does say) that it is organizations such as CAFOD, which ensure that we do look outside ourselves and come to the aid of others, which keep our communities christian.
So perhaps we have no another dimension to add to our reflections. With the number of active priests likely to decline over the next ten to twenty years, how will our diocese, and our own parish (even if there is no longer a resident priest) continue to show in practical ways our christian love for others? How will we put structures into place to make sure that our christian love for others is not left to a few individuals, who do great work, but who certainly cannot be expected to last for ever?
In this parish I am very grateful to those who have shown such christian love for others for many years. Members of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul; Eucharistic Ministers; those who have been parish representatives for CAFOD or for Justice and Peace; and no doubt other groupings of people as well. But how are we to make sure that this will continue? The ministry of charity is part (and perhaps the most important part) of the ministry of the deacon. Do we need a deacon in this parish? Deacons can be married or single; and they will have their own secular employment (until retirement). But they are also ordained ministers of the Church, and on behalf of the community they are ministers of the love of God. It takes time – perhaps five years or so – for a community to put forward a candidate for the diaconate, for his to be accepted as such by the Bishop, and for him to be trained. There are about 40 deacons working at present in our diocese. It is certainly worth while asking whether we should also have a deacon in this parish. Do you think we should look into this possibility? And if so, how should we go about deciding whether we really do want to present a candidate to Bishop Malcolm?
This is just one possibility: there will be other ways forward. If we do believe that God is Three Persons, One eternal God, and if we do believe, as St. John tells us, that God is love, then we must take very seriously our duty to be a loving communion in Jesus Christ.