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30th Sunday in ordinary time: Love, the soul of the city

Today’s readings: Exodus 22, 20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1, 5-10; Matthew 22, 34-40.

When France was perpetrating acts of violence against the inhabitants of its colonies, Albert Camus wrote: “I wish that I lived in a country where it was possible to love justice and still love my country”. There are always two sides of the same coin. When we speak of our country there are always things we love and things we hate. Counting the social malaises and the virtues at one and the same time is not always easy.

In the first reading from Exodus today, the focus is on justice with the outcasts while, in the gospel, it is on true love of God and neighbour. Love should open our eyes to the suffering of those excluded. Love should be the remedy of all that afflicts society. Love is not a religious virtue. To love is ultimately humane.

In the light of that love which Jesus today indicates as the greatest commandment of the law, it makes sense to ask ourselves, personally and collectively, what is it that we actually love? What are we seeking? St Augustine, a seeker par excellence, in the opening lines of his Confessions, affirms that our hearts are restless and will not rest until they rest in God.

Philosopher John Caputo transcribes Augustine’s words as saying that “we are all a little unhinged”. He writes that we ought to think of Augustine as someone overflowing with love who is seeking to know where to direct his love. He is not out to see what he can get, writes Caputo, but out to see what he can give.

Loving one’s neighbour is no religious mono­poly. It is a challenge facing a secular society and, in our case, a society that is fast becoming post-Christian. If once we had religion as the foundation and reference point of our social fabric, now that we are gradually exiting that frame of mind, we cannot remain unhinged.

We need to recover the virtues that will make of us a livable and humane society and that will guarantee that justice be done to the stranger we are always tempted to exclude or see as a threat. Our society, if we do not open our eyes, is prone to become more scared to take people in, seeing hospitality as risky, possibly endangering our own security and comfort.

We need to struggle for our country’s soul.  There will always be some form of love, be it love for ourselves or love that is true and just. But love, to be fulfilling and healing, has to be given shape, form and direction, addressing not just our own needs but the real needs of the least members of society, those very often left out.

Today’s words from Exodus remain so true and soliciting in the construction of our polis: “You must not molest the stranger or oppress him; you must not be harsh with the widow, or with the orphan”. Our country is suffering from a psychological and spiritual condition that, if not attended to, can lead us further astray.

Our society’s sickness is fundamentally a spiri­tual sickness that not even religion as we live it or the Church can heal. Unfortunately, like the Pharisees, we are often part of the problem, not of the solution. If we imagine ourselves posing to Jesus that same old question posed by the Pharisees about the greatest commandment, most probably his answer would be the same.

It is by loving God and neighbour with all our heart, soul and mind that will equip us to be a driving force that can keep society together and struggle for the soul of our country.

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