Thursday, August 18, 2005

If I Have Not Love

“If I have not love, I am nothing… If I have not love, I gain nothing” (1Cor. 13:2-3). St Paul does not mince words in his famous and profound hymn to love (does he ever?). This is the bottom line of the Christian message. What is the point of burning yourself out doing good works or acquiring all theological knowledge if it is not done with love and as an act or offering of love?

Lest we get mired in some sentimental or emotional understanding of love, St Paul gives us the clear truth: “Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, love is the fullness of faith and hope, love endures all things. Love never ends…” (vv. 4-8). Take some time to examine yourself on each of those points and see if your love for God and neighbor is true love after all.

So much error and misguided behavior have been promoted in the name of love. But love essentially is that which seeks the good of the beloved. The greatest good that human beings can hope to attain is eternal salvation. So to love someone rightly is to say and do for that person what will help them attain salvation. That is why tolerance of falsehood or immorality is not a loving thing. That is why a misguided “compassion” (i.e., refusing to invite to repentance those who manifest an objective moral disorder or some other impediment to salvation) is not genuine love.

To look at the fullness of love is to look upon the pierced Heart of Jesus, whose love “bore all things” for us on the Cross. Until we are willing to be “crucified” (in one way or another) for the sake of the beloved, we have not yet plumbed the depths of love. Sacrifice is an essential element of genuine love, as all loving parents, spouses, priests and consecrated persons know.

Everything will pass except love. Faith, hope, and love survive the vicissitudes of this world, but in the world to come, faith and hope will be unnecessary, for we will see face to face. “For now we see as in a glass, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully” (v. 12). Love alone endures for all eternity. “Love never ends.” That is why “the greatest of these is love” (v. 13).

We would do well to reflect often on this thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. So many wounds would be healed, animosities ended, and storms calmed, if only we learned to live in love, to express love in the way we regard and deal with other people. St Paul gives us a practical example: “Forgive one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Eph. 4:32). And Jesus expects nothing less from his disciples, as He gives us the keynote of Christianity: “Love one another, as I have loved you” (John 15:12).