Feb 2, 2019

4th Sunday: "Love is . . . "

"I shall show you a more excellent way" 

I Cor 12:31 - 13: 13

Luke 4: 21 - 30

You may be old enough to remember the wildly popular Oscar nominee movie of the early 1970’s entitled: “Love Story.” Whether you are or not that movie starring Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neil reflected all the emotion both in joy and sadness that love between two people can bring.  It was basically a contemporary Romeo and Juliet story. Two people from very different backgrounds meet and fall in love, then tragedy hits in the death of one. Yet, it is best remembered for the popular slogan from the film: “Love means never having to say you’re sorry.”

Really? What does that mean? Are apologies unnecessary in a relationship?  Sounds bit presumptuous doesn’t it.  I presume that you love me so much that no matter how I hurt you, you will understand and presume my apology although you never hear it.  Hmmmm. Such Hollywood presentation on the meaning of true love is questionable although the line may sound catchy.  When one stops to think about its implications it bears reflection.

This Sunday’s second reading from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is certainly one of the most beautiful.  It is commonly chosen for weddings and it has a good place there.  It is a near poetic reflection on the qualities of love and specifically Paul sees these qualities as a greater moral value; “. . . a still more excellent way.” Because Paul uses the word “love” liberally here it’s understandable why a bride and groom would want to hear these words at their wedding.  Yet, Paul is not speaking of marriage here directly.  He speaks of a relationship love, an “agape” love, between us and God. This is the quality of love, Paul wants us to know, that a Christian must pursue and that which the Holy Spirit will pour into our hearts. 

In inspiring words he writes that love is: “patient, kind, not jealous, not pompous not inflated, not rude, not seeking its own self-interests, not quick tempered, does not brood over injuries, or rejoice over the wrongdoing of others but rejoices with the truth.” In telling us what love is “not,” Paul beautifully reveals to us what true love, in pursuit of the good of another, truly “is” and looks like.  Paul wants us to know that in a Christian community these are the characteristics of what Christian behavior looks like and what you would encounter when entering that community.  Why, because in doing so we imitate Christ himself who showed us the more excellent way of God’s love for us and our love for each other. This expression and living out of agape love creates a bond between Christ and its members and between the members themselves.

This love does not live only on surface emotions, with tears and hugs and a presumption of unspoken forgiveness, but becomes for Christians the pursuit of “greater spiritual gifts” that the Holy Spirit will give us as members of the Body of Christ, the Church.  It is what agape love creates.  Compelling isn’t it?  Easy it is not. 

It seems to me, as Jesus himself often did in his parables and in the sermon on the mount we read in Matthew, Paul is speaking of the great ideal we must strive for. He holds up these characteristics when he says to his Corinthian church: “love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things . . .” as what this kind of community would look like in the most perfect of all worlds.  They set for us a goal to aim for as Paul states: “strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts.”

Keep aiming high, don’t give up, this is the goal to attain through the grace of God in his Spirit.  Paul becomes a kind of spiritual coach urging us to keep training. Yes, we fall short, but keep striving higher. So we put up with all sorts of things and make sacrifices for the sake of the Gospel and the good of the other. 

In this culture of free choice, self-gratification, individualism, and abundant opportunity the words of Paul, God’s call to holiness, is needed more than ever. Why put up with inconvenience when I can do this the easy way? Mass each week is simply not that necessary because it conflict with my busy schedule. 

The positions of the Church on popular issues such as marriage are too “out of touch.” And besides, what about the sexual abuse scandal and the leadership of the Church.  Haven’t they failed miserably and caused pain among the members?  We are confronted with our flawed human nature in some disturbing ways indeed.  Yet, we are all in need of reform and are in constant pursuit of conversion.  The Church is never reformed by those who leave it. 

In the Gospel, as last week, we see Jesus embracing his mission.  Although rejected by his own town’s people in Nazareth, he becomes the source of salvation for all.  He set the ideal for all of us to make the kingdom of God present here by creating these communities of agape through the Spirit-given love that forms us in his own image.  Our Eucharist creates and expresses the unity in diversity that Paul writes of earlier. 

Why not take some personal time and examine how I can become more a contributor to this Body of Christ.  Where have I fallen short and how can I use the gifts God has given me to build up the Body of Christ? Paul’s Corinthian letter today, I think, offers us a golden moment of self-examination.

In place of the word “love” put your own name.  For example, “John, Mary” is patient? Kind? Not jealous? Not rude? Not selfish? Etc.  Try that sometime then say you’re sorry for the ways I have caused sin to be present rather than virtue in the community of faith.  It may be time to go to confession and admit my shortcomings and to know that God indeed is waiting to forgive us. 

Love means saying you’re sorry and to pursue all that the Spirit wants to create in us as we love and always will the good of others after Christ example.

Grant us, Lord our God, 
that we may honor you with all our mind, 
and love everyone in truth of heart. 
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, 
your Son, who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, 
one God, for ever and ever. 

(Collect of Mass)

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