February 3, 2019 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause
February 3, 2019
1 Corinthians 12:31–13:13
Fr. George Smiga
Today’s second reading from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is very well known. Ninety percent of Catholic couples choose this reading to be part of their wedding liturgy. They do this because the passage is about love. Paul goes on for a whole chapter talking about the qualities and the power of love. When we first read this passage, we are tempted to use Paul’s description of love as a kind of moral checklist, examining ourselves about how well we have loved. Have I been patient? Have I been kind? Am I concerned only about my own self-interest? Do I brood over injuries?
Using Paul’s words this way is certainly valid and helpful, but there are indications in the text that Paul has something larger in mind than our moral improvement. The tip-off to this larger sense is when Paul says, “Love never fails.” Love never fails? Of course it does. Love fails regularly. Honest efforts of love to hold a marriage together sometimes fail. Sincere attempts to save a son, daughter, or friend from making a disastrous decision sometimes fail. Love fails all the time. So how can Paul say, “Love never fails”? He can say it because here Paul is not talking about our love. He is talking about a greater and a prior love. He is talking about the love of God.
Behind all that Paul says about love is the eternal, perfect love of God which never fails. And the words fit. God’s love is patient. Time and time again, God waits for us, waits for us to see, waits for us to change, waits for us to respond to his love. God’s love is kind. God does not bully us or push us around but deals with us gently, as a mother deals with her infant child. God’s love does not seek its own interest. On the contrary, God humbles himself to become one of us, to suffer on the cross so that we might have life. God’s love is not about God’s interests but about our interests. God’s love does not brood over injuries. God’s love is merciful. No matter how many times we turn our back on God, God is willing to forgive. God does not brood over our sins. Though they be as red as scarlet, God will make them white as snow. Underlying all that Paul says in this famous hymn of love is God’s eternal and perfect love, which never fails.
Now, of course, Paul invites us to imitate God’s love. Because we have known God’s patience, kindness, generosity, and mercy, we are invited to be patient, kind, generous, and merciful to others. But the reason we do these actions is not simply because they are good, or because they are right, but because doing them allows us to participate in the love of God.
So the next time you are able to be patient with a family member who drives you crazy, know that your patience is not simply the result of Jesus’ teaching, but it is allowing you to act like God. The next time that you give of yourself generously to a friend who is in serious need, know that you are not simply doing something good, you are doing something divine. If you find the grace to forgive an enemy who has hurt you deeply, know that your action is not simply something moral. It is something eternal. God’s perfect love has called all things into being, saved us through Jesus Christ, and promises us eternal life. That is the love we have known. That is the love that we are called to share.