One of the most challenging parts of the Bible is a passage that sounds so romantic you probably think it’s a Billy Joel hit. It’s just so soft sounding and cute that you’d hardly think it forms in many ways the center of the Apostle Paul’s message.
First Corinthians, Chapter 13, verses 4-8 says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
Awww, isn’t that sweet? Don’t you just love hearing that passage read, especially at weddings? It’s just so doggone cute. Look again, lover-boy, there’s a pretty stern message buried in there.
St. Paul has just laid out God’s standard of love. That is the benchmark for your dealings with your fellow human beings. Jesus said the greatest commandment is to love one another, and Paul is telling you how you must do it. Can you hit those marks? Every day? In every action? Read it again.
Love is ALWAYS patient. Love is ALWAYS kind. Ouch; Paul, really? Even when I’m really tired and the kids are misbehaving and my wife wants to go to some stupid party being thrown by friends that I don’t really like? Love does not brood over injury? But my boss is a jerk, and I really deserved that raise. And that unmentionable word of a driver on the highway this morning could have at least used his turn signal before he cut me off. Always? Always.
How about seventy-five percent?No, I probably can’t do that well; would you settle for 50-50? Sigh. Back to confession.
During the Apostolic era of the church, faith in God gave the Twelve amazing powers. Miraculous cures were common, incredible insights were the rule rather than the exception, and common everyday Joes were given the gift of speaking languages they had never heard before in their lives. It must have been an incredible time.
But Paul told the Corinthians none of that meant diddly without love. Apparently, raising someone from the dead was less important than offering your hand to a little old lady crossing the street. Speaking with the power of angels, moving mountains, giving everything to the poor, blah, blah, blah. It’s all window dressing without the central purpose, without love.
Catholicism is powerful. Our Christian founders had more amazing and confounding abilities at their fingertips than any humans in history. They could literally raise the dead, move mountains, and strike people dead with a word.
Catholicism is mystical. God talks to us. Hundreds, no, thousands of us have seen Jesus, Mary, and any one of a number of people who once had human form but left this world in “death,” long ago. People of faith continue to be healed by powers that defy human explanation. We live in the midst of a communion of saints.
But at the end of the day, at the heart of Catholicism is a simple commandment. Love one another. Always. Everyone. In every way and at every moment. No matter how tired, hurt, wronged, or sad you are. Love is the rule. Do it.