Honour and love

Published February 1, 2001

Michael Peers

AT THE moment of writing I am living in the afterglow of one of the too infrequent joys of our mobile society – the visit of grandchildren who live far away and who can seldom visit.

The same characteristic of our society which makes the visit possible is what makes it necessary, namely, the capacity to travel. It creates a world which causes us to live thousands of miles apart but also provides the occasional opportunity to bridge the very gap it creates.

So as two pre-school grandchildren fly home I ask myself, “What do they make of us?” They can identify Grandma and Opa from pictures on their fridge, but does that create lasting and loving relationships?

I grew up in a world where grandparents were less than an hour’s drive away, where Sunday tea with Granny and Grandpa was absolute. Sunday tea was often fun, though rather more because of my grandparents’ interesting house and the cousins who were also there.

But to say that I had a strong and loving relationship with my grandparents would be stretching a point. They were my grandparents and deserved to be treated properly as befits one’s parent’s parents, but not too much more than that.

As I thought about my present status as grandfather as well as my relationship to my own grandparents, I realized that they fit the Fifth Commandment. The command to “honour” father and mother was addressed to adults and required the respect of adults for their elders, and by inference, the respect of children for ancestors other than parents.

The commandment uses the verb “honour” rather than “love”. The command to “love” begins with God and is extended from that to one’s neighbour (obviously including grandparents).

To honour someone is to extend a kind of love, but it does not carry the weight of a command to love. A command to love is not a light thing, and both law and gospel take the weight seriously. That is what gives Jesus’ words about loving our enemies such power; this is not a glib, off-hand proposal, but a huge challenge.

Years ago friends gave me a book with the inscription, from Saint Augustine, “Ama Deum et fac quod vis”. When I translated it, I thought they must have made a mistake. “Love God and do what you want”? Surely it must be “love God and do what He wants.”

But no, even as strict a moralist as Augustine used those words deliberately. If our love of God is real and profound, then that is all that matters. If everything we do is grounded in a total love of God, then we do not have to worry about commandments at all. Right actions flow irresistibly from that love. If we get the love of God right, then all else follows.

And because I have met so many people whose lives seem to be set in that mode, I have a vision of what such a life might be like. All this stream-of-reflection seems to have taken me a long way from thinking of my grandchildren.

It leads me to a point of relaxing and handing it all to God who is in charge anyway. Not to worry about whether my grandchildren “love” me, not to worry about whether others “honour” me, not even to worry about how I’m doing with the Ten Commandments, but to take infinite care about this one thing, the love of God, and let the rest remain with God.

Archbishop Michael Peers is Primate of the Anglican Church of Canada.


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