4th Sunday of Ordinary Time—Love

4th Sunday of Ordinary Time

I have no official statistics, but based on my own experience I’d say that at least two out of three couples choose our second reading today from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians for their wedding ceremony.  And, why not?  It’s the ultimate definition of the word “love”.  But if you read Paul’s letter in context, he’s not writing about married love, or even male/female love.

 

Our reading today is the third in a series from the 14th Chapter of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.  Remember, two weeks ago we learned that the community was divided.  The people were arguing with one another about who had the greatest spiritual gifts.  “My gift of healing is greater than your gift of prophesy!”  “No my gift of discernment is better than either of your gifts.”  And on and on.

 

Paul reminded them that each gift came from God and that no gift is more important than any other. That was verse 4-11 of the 12th chapter of Paul’s first letter to them.

 

Then last week we read verses 12-30.  Still trying to get them to stop arguing Paul uses the analogy of the body.  Each part of the body makes its special contribution.  The hand isn’t better than the foot and the eye isn’t greater than the ear.  All of the parts have to work together.  If any part suffers, the whole body suffers.  “If one part is honored, all parts share its joy.”

 

In our reading today, Paul wraps up the series by telling them that there is one thing greater than any of the other spiritual gifts and that’s love.

 

In spite of the fact that this is such a popular wedding reading, the kind of love Paul describes isn’t necessarily married love, though the definition fits the love between a man and wife perfectly.  But, notice that Paul doesn’t say anything about holding hands, or sending flowers, or spending the rest of your life with the same person following the sacrament of marriage.

 

No, he’s talking about the kind of love that we’re all supposed to have for one another.  Remember that Jesus told us in the 15th Chapter of John’s Gospel that the greatest love of all is to lay down one’s life for his friends.  He gives us His two great commandments:  Love God and love your neighbor as yourself.  In this passage Paul tells us what Jesus meant.

 

“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”   When I was in high school I was in the band.  I was a drummer.  We used gongs and cymbals for marches and big dramatic music.  When we played a ballad or a love song, we put the cymbals away.  Cymbals were loud.  They were noisy.  They only played one single note and that note was always brash and emphatic.  When you play the piano, you tickle the ivories.  You toodle a flute.  You stroke a violin.  But you beat a drum.  Gongs resound and cymbals clash.

 

In other words, no matter how great your gifts, if you don’t have love they’re just so much noise.

 

“If I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge, if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”  He’s telling them that none of their gifts are worth a darn without love.  Even if he “gives away everything he owns, and if he hands his body over so that he may boast, but does not have love he gains nothing.”

 

Now comes the good part.  This is the part that the wedding couples really like.  But think of it as not so much about married love but more about this love that Jesus calls us to have for Him and for our neighbor.  It sounds really good but if you think about it, it’s really hard.

 

“Love is patient.”  If you’re married you know this is true.  Jan and I have been married almost 45 years.  She must be the most patient person on earth.

“Love is kind.”  OK, it’s easy to be kind to your wife or your kids.  It may not be so easy to be kind to the homeless person who asks you for money.  Do they really need it or are the running some kind of scam.  Maybe they want the money to buy booze or drugs.  Maybe when you pull out your wallet they’ll pull out a gun and rob you.  No, kindness to strangers isn’t always easy.

“It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude.”  Can any of us really say that we’ve never been jealous, pompous, inflated, or rude?  We may not even mean it.  You may have noticed that I have kind of a dry sense of humor.  Sometimes I say things that I think are funny but that people take the wrong way.  They think I’m being rude.  And frankly, I’ve learned that my being a member of the clergy makes some people think it’s OK to be rude to me.

 

“It does not seek its own interests, Let’s be honest.  Why are we all here today?  We come to mass to praise God and to receive His Body and Blood in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  But why do we do that?  Because we want to go to heaven.  We’re definitely seeking our own interests by coming to mass.  For mass to be really meaningful for us, it has to be in the context of loving God, not in fulfilling an “obligation” so we can get to heaven.

 

[Love] is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.”  Every time I receive the sacrament of reconciliation I have to confess that I have a quick temper;  EVERY TIME!  I confess it and I sincerely mean to be better but then something happens that set me off again.  I think I’ve gotten better, but I’m beginning to wonder, at 64 years old, if I’ll ever master my own temper.

 

“Love never fails.”  Paul goes on to explain how the other gifts will fail. Basically he says that as a grown-up he’s given up childish things.  At present, we can’t see clearly.  We only understand partially.  Someday when we meet God face-to-face we’ll understand it all.  But for the time being “faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

 

So, kudos to the young (and not so young) people who choose this reading on their special day.  I hope and pray that they’ll practice what Paul says in their married lives.  But, Paul is really talking to you and me.  You can give your entire fortune to charity but if you’re doing it for the tax deduction and not because you love your fellow man, it’s a hollow gesture.

 

If I have the gift of prophesy but delight in telling people that bad things are coming, I’m a clashing cymbal.  If I have faith to move mountains but don’t have love…….I’m nothing.

 

Paul doesn’t really say anything in this reading about prayer.  But we know that the greatest thing we can do for our neighbors is to pray for them.  Prayer is our best and most important expression of love.  I mentioned in today’s bulletin that our US Bishops have issued a call to prayer for life, marriage, and religious freedom.  Our secular society and even out government are attacking our core beliefs on these issues.  And it’s not just a “Catholic thing”.  It’s a Christian thing.

 

Abortion, same sex “marriage” and the HHS mandate are critical issues in our today.  Every day we kill thousands of babies in this country and no one raises an eyebrow.  Friday the government issued a so-called compromise on the HHS mandate that changed nothing at all.  It seems like every day we see something in the news that undermines the sacrament of marriage.

 

I don’t think most of us are inclined to join marches or protests.  It’s just not our style.  But we can all pray.  At the bishop’s request, we will be having a monthly holy hour, maybe an even longer period of Eucharistic Adoration every month.  But even if you don’t attend, you can still pray for our country.  Pray for an end to abortion.  Pray for the sanctity of the sacrament of marriage.  Pray that common sense and decency will prevail and religious institutions will not be forced to provide services that violate our beliefs.  Most of all, pray for the courage and the conviction to speak out against evil every chance you get.  And most of all, as Saint Paul tells us, do it with love.

 

 

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