02 Feb 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting these homilies on
St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer and considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it. ‘Tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time.
If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
Our second reading today has to be one of the most beautiful pieces of Scripture in the entire Bible. It is St. Paul at his lyrical best. It is on the front of your bulletins this weekend. I’d encourage you to take it home with you and read it over and over again this upcoming week. This so called Hymn to Love is the best summary of St. Paul’s spiritual and theological thought. St. Paul is writing to the Church of Corinth, who had become more captivated by the spectacular manifestations of the spiritual life: speaking in tongues, trading in words of knowledge, engaging in prophecy. This first letter’s purpose was to bring the people of Corinth back to the fundamentals. St. Paul strongly insists on the superiority of love. He asserts that all the spiritual gifts are great but they are nothing if they are not accompanied by love or if they do not give rise to love. Love is the supreme gift.
It is important to note that in the Greek of the New Testament there are four separate words that are all translated into the English as love. Philia, which is the love characterized by friendship. Storge, the love that springs from dutiful relationships, like parents for children and children for their parents. Eros, the intimate physical love between a man and a woman. And finally Agape, the love that God has for us and the love that we are to have for our neighbour out of love for God. It is this final love, Agape, that is the word used in 1 Corinthians chapter 13…the love that God has for us and that we are to have for our neighbours out of love for God.
Love is not primarily a feeling or emotion; though love can be accompanied by feelings and emotions; Love is a choice, love is the willing the good of the other and then doing something concrete about it…When we love, we cannot focus in on ourselves. Love, by its very nature, is for the good of someone else.
“Love is patient, love is kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Many of us are good to someone else so that he or she, in turn, might be good to us. This is not true love, but rather it is a kind of twisted love of self…the focus is actually on ourselves. When we are caught in the rhythm of that sort of reciprocal exchange,…I’ll be patient or kind to you only if you are patient or kind to me…we get very impatient with any negative response to what we perceive of ourselves as loving…however since it is focussed on ourselves…it is not love.
If someone responds to our kindness with hostility or even indifference, we quickly withdraw whatever good we think we have done. True love is not interested in reciprocation but simply in the good of the other, and therefore, is willing to wait out any resistance.
Love is patient. It never gives up on anyone. Impatience inserts ourselves into the situation…It says…haven’t I done enough…Impatience says to the other…you’ll never get it right…do it in my time not in yours…think like me…Impatience is self-focussed…It is not focussed on the good of the other.
Love is willing to suffer for the sake of the other. It is not jealous. Jealousy is always born of a twisted self-love. I’ll bring them down. But, Love wants the good of the other. It is what love is. It rejoices in the good of the other. It is not arrogant or inflated. It does not think it is better than the other. It doesn’t seek its own interest. That is the definition of love. Love does not brood over an injury. It is not quick-tempered.
Impatience, Jealousy, quick temper, conceitedness comes from being preoccupied with ourselves. Someone is not doing it my way so I lose my peace. We focus on the way we’ve been injured…What they have done to me. This is all ego, twisted self-love.
True love has nothing to do with resentment, for it wants the success of the other. And the person who loves is not conceited, because he/she feels no need to raise themselves above the other…to compare themselves to the other…Just the contrary: they want the other to be elevated, and hence takes the lower place with joy. Once we understand the nature of true love, we know why “it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7).
Love does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. How often we do rejoice over wrongdoing. We take a twisted pleasure in the misfortune of someone else; when someone else experiences a failure or has done something wrong. Love is not interested in that…Love rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things. It puts up with all things because it wants to go to the other. It is willing to bear the burden of the other however that burden is manifested. Love hopes all things. When everything is going wrong the person of love is interested in what is possible…What can be. Love endures all things. Love never fails. Love is who God is. God never fails.
The one who loves is not focused on himself but on the object or person of his love. He is not preoccupied with his own weariness or disappointment or frustration. Instead he looks ahead, hoping against hope, attending to the needs of the one he loves.
St. Therese of Lisieux discovered her vocation in her reading of chapter 13 of First Corinthians. It profoundly struck her and she realised that her, and our, vocation was to love. This became the heart of her spiritual teaching. It is called her Little Way and it is very, very, challenging. Easy to say, hard to live. The Little Way can be summarised in the following question…What is the quality of my love? Every moment wherever I am; whatever I am doing…what is the demand of love in that moment? What is right in front of me right now …what is the demand of love? So simple and beautiful to say…one of the most difficult to live.
Often people, in frustration, will say to me: That all sounds well and good but Father Shawn…I’m so impatient, I have such a temper, I am so jealous, arrogant, vain…I can’t change…but we are not these things…. they are often habitual ways of reacting to particular situations…relational ruts in which we have fallen…So let’s be very pragmatic…how do we become more patient, less full of anger, less jealous or vain?
None of these are sinful in and of themselves…they appear on our hearts as temptations and are not sinful until we act upon them. Temptations are part of who we are as fallen human beings. When we give in to them they can become sinful and we let the person have it…at least in our minds and sometimes even lash out with our tongues
However, these exact same temptations can become the source of our holiness…when we feel impatient or anger well up in our heart…if we resist it…quickly utter a « Come Holy Spirit » or perhaps a full Our Father in our heart before acting or speaking…we resist it, we grow in strength, we grow in holiness…the same temptation that could cause us to sin…when resisted becomes a source of holiness and when we do it over and over and over…a true source of peace…sure we will have impatience, anger, jealousy, pride…they are part of who we are as fallen human beings…BUT when resisted…they become opportunities…opportunities to grow in holiness, to grow in love and peace.
“Love never fails” (1 Corinthians 13:8). Heaven is all about Love… not wealth, power, pleasure or honour… but Love…In heaven, when we are sharing the divine life…There…even faith will end, for we will see and no longer merely believe; hope will end, for our deepest longing will have been realised. But love will endure, because God IS love.
This passage could very easily read:
God is patient; God is kind; God is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5 or rude. God does not insist on His own way; God is not irritable or resentful; God does not rejoice in wrongdoing, God rejoices in the truth. 7 God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
God never ends.
The reading exhorts us to “strive for the greater things.” As Christians, followers of a God who loves us in this way, we too are called to imitate God. We are called to be patient. We are called to be kind; We are called not to be envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. We are called not to insist on our own way. We are called not to be irritable. We are called not to be resentful. We are called to rejoice in the truth and not others’ faults
Heaven is the state of being in which everything that is not love has been burned away. And that is why “faith, hope, and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13). Paul has named here, not just the essence of his own theology, but also of Christian life itself.
Love transcends egotism…Love is willing the good of the other and then doing something concrete about it…When we love, we cannot focus in on ourselves. Love, by its very nature, is for the good of someone else.
St. John of the Cross, the great master of the spiritual life gives this advice:
“Where there is no love, put love – love draws forth love.”