Homily for the Seventh Sunday of Easter, 2013
Back when I was an undergraduate philosophy student, we read quite a bit of Plato. And you might think that ancient Greek philosophers would be boring, but often we found ourselves quite amused. For example, in Plato’s Symposium, there is a speech given by a character named Aristophanes, who argues that originally there were three human genders, not just two. In addition to male and female, he says, there was a third, which was a combination of the two. These were the original people, he said. They were round, their back and sides forming a circle; and they had four hands and the same number of feet, one head with two faces, looking opposite ways, set on a round neck and precisely alike. They could walk upright, backwards or forwards, but when they wanted to run he said they would roll over and over at a great pace, turning on their four hands and four feet, eight in all, like tumblers going over and over with their legs in the air.
That’s an image…
What was Aristophanes point? Why did he say that these primordial androgynous people must have existed? Love. “What do people want of one another?”, he asked. “Is there a person who would deny or would not acknowledge that a meeting and melting into one another, a becoming one instead of two, is the very expression of his ancient need?” And this is because, he says, human nature was originally one and we were a whole, but now because of the wickedness of mankind God has dispersed us. He says that the desire and pursuit to be whole, to be united to our long lost other half is the origin of love.
In case you were wondering, this is not Catholic teaching.
We believe that God created us male and female, not as rolly polly androgynous tumbler people. But Plato identified, some 400 years before Jesus walked on the planet, something that is very true and very much a part of our tradition. That human beings are marked with a fundamental desire, or what he called an ancient need, to be one, to belong.
Aristophanes’ rather comical explanation of the origin of this deep human longing focuses on the natural and biological world. That we have a desire for unity because in our maleness or femaleness we are incomplete people. And isn’t it interesting that in our culture today it seems that many people have a similar idea about love. Love is depicted as a desire to find the other half, to find Mr. or Mrs. right, to find someone who we will serenade with the words of Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.” For so many today, especially for so many of our young people, this is what they think finding love, finding the unity and the oneness they are made for, looks like.
But Christ teaches us that love is far more than a mere natural pairing of two imperfect halves seeking to be completed in one another. Otherwise we would teach that marriage represents the perfection of love. What the Church does teach is that the complementarity of men and women, the love of marriage is a sharing in the love of Christ, a love that is not exhausted in marriage, but that is ultimately rooted in union with God. Love is made perfect in Christ, and in the union, the communion that we share together in him. And so rather than finding love by paring up, Christ teaches us that human beings are made to find love and live in love by being part of a body that is alive in the Holy Spirit who unites us to one another and to God.
That we are open and receptive and responsive to this profound communion of love is Christ’s most solemn, most intense prayer. It is the prayer we hear in the Gospel reading today. The prayer that he prayed in the last moments of his life on earth, as he prepared to enter into his passion and death: this is his final request, his last will and testament:
“Holy father I pray for all who will believe in me, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us… so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may be brought to perfection as one, that the world may know that you sent me, and that you loved them even as you loved me.”
What does it mean to be one? In Christ, our unity, our oneness with him and with one another is meant to be incredibly profound and multifaceted. It is true that Christ’s love is manifest in a oneness and communion that exists in a unique and beautiful way between spouses, but it also exists in the love between parents and children, between friends and neighbors, between priests and religious and laity, between fellow workers and collaborators, and with God's grace, Christ tells us that our love must even extend to the stranger and to our enemies.
Jesus has taught us that love is not found in another who completes us, but in a profound communion of life shared with God, with one another, with our world, extending even to the most remote ends of society, encompassing the downtrodden, the scorned, the ridiculed, the forgotten.
Love is a multifaceted harmony of life, a symphony, not a duet. It is a large, colorful pallet of paint, not black and white, yin and yang. It is a giant and deep ocean full of myriads of creatures, an infinitely expanding universe of relationships of various shapes and sizes and durations and characteristics all united and brought together and animated by God himself, who is love.
God gives us his life in the Eucharist that we may be one in him, that we may enter fully into this ocean, this universe of love, the matrix of his life. So that together he can build us up into a dwelling place of love. He wants us to have the joy, the peace, the freedom that come from living together in him – free of rivalries and jealousies, bitterness or hatreds. Sharing a communion, a life, that we could never find on our own or with another half; a life, a love that only he can give, a divine love, a oneness in heart and mind and desire that extends to all people and to all creation itself and that will endure even beyond death.