Saturday, September 5th, 2020

‘Odio Habebit et Diliget’: a Homily for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

No-one can serve two masters: either he will have hatred for one and love the other, or he will endure with one and have contempt for the other (Matthew 6, 24).

At the beginning, let’s be clear about one thing, friends: that the sole occupation of the Catholic Christian is to see with the eyes of Christ; to reason with the mind of Christ; to feel and understand with the Heart of Christ. If that is not our first concern upon waking every morning, and at every moment thereafter, then the rest of what we do or say will matter very little. 

Naturally, however, there are many ways we can go about doing this. But of course, one of these ways is by hearing the words of Christ in the Gospel, and pondering them with humility and with great care. When we do this—sustained by the activity of the Holy Ghost—a human life becomes something new; and we find ourselves secure in God.

Our Blessed Lord never minces words and he never misleads us. It is part of the beautiful nobility of his Person, and why he can rightly call himself the Good Shepherd.[1] Today, therefore, he speaks a lesson for our times.

These days, everything seems so very complicated. The many moving parts of the world seem to conspire against us; we may, as a result, experience a certain interior vertigo. As a remedy to all that, and out of the love of his Heart, Christ assures us that anyone who would love him cannot have a divided heart: ‘No one can serve two masters.’ Heaven knows, that each in our own way we have tried—tried to serve our own pleasures while bracketing the interests of God. Human life comes entirely from God and will return to him; in truth, he is our one and only Master: but by sinning, we attempt to serve some other master—the world, or the flesh, or the devil.  

But Christ reminds us of the impossibility of serving two masters.—Not of the difficulty of serving two masters; not that, if one is clever or sophisticated enough, one can serve two masters; but that one never can. Human life is simply not constituted for it. For indeed, honest and careful thought convinces us that, serving two masters is a kind of contradiction of terms: you can’t really have two Masters, two sovereigns. Disordered human passions will try to have it otherwise; a mess of contradicting desires is often all we have to show for ourselves. But Our Lord has to remind us of that this is impossible in the end, and dangerous even to attempt.  

Now, your priest is belaboring the point; but this for a reason. 

It is possible to see the present upheavals in our culture as conflict between two masters. For all the world’s complication, Christ reminds us that the matter is ultimately very simple, and that we should not allow ourselves to be deceived: the serving of two masters isn’t possible: ‘either he will have hatred for one and love the other.’ And this is precisely what we are seeing. The world is showing us that it loves one master and hates another. The world is showing us that an ordered human society is not possible outside of the divine plan. 

But the overarching point is this: you can be sure, wherever we find hatred and anger and destruction, we do not find God. Very simply, dear friends, follow the rhetoric of hatred and division, and you will find the master whom we cannot serve; the master who each and every Catholic renounces on the day of his Baptism. ‘Satan owns hatred,’ I once heard an exorcist say.  

This past week we had two papal anniversaries, and this on the same day. September 3rd is the feast of Pope St Pius X. It also the day on which, in 590, Gregorius Annicius was consecrated the 64th bishop of Rome. The motto of Pius Decimus was Instaurare omnia in Christo. A motto for our times, indeed. As for St Gregory, he bore the weight of the high priesthood while barbarians wrought havoc in Italy and while corruption and incompetence gripped the Church. Easy to see how we do well to study their example and beseech their prayers.

But I end with a text of the breviary; it is the Magnificat antiphon for the office of a Roman Pontiff, which the Church sang on Thursday evening, the festival of Pope St Pius X:

While he was High Priest, he did not fear earthly matters, but passed gloriously into the heavenly kingdom.[2]

Please God that may be true of us on the last day; and it is only the love of Christ the Master that will make it so. 


[1] John 10, 11.

[2] Dum esset Summus Pontifex, terrena non metuit, sed ad cælestia regna gloriosus migravit.

{Art Credit; Thomas Cole (1801-1848), The Course of Empire: Destruction (1836); New York Historical Society}

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