The 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-5, 17-19
Responsorial Psalm: Psalm 71:1-6, 15-17
Second Reading: St. Paul’s 1st Letter to the Corinthians 12:31-13:13
Gospel: According to St. Luke 4:21-30
The word ‘love’ can mean a lot of things and can refer to a wide variety of objects. I love pizza. I love the Fighting Irish. I love my wife. I love my neighbor. I love God.
The uses above can be categorized as – not really love at all but a simple matter of taste; love of my clan (known as storge in the Greek); love of my lifelong betrothed and best friend (eros and philia); non-discriminatory Christ-like love (agape); the adoration due to God as God (latria in the Latin).
When it comes to our relationships with any and all human beings the word ‘love’ must focus on what is best for the one who is loved. Love is, if nothing else, a commitment to another. If I love someone, then I am pledging a commitment to that person’s true and ultimate good. We can imagine innumerable scenarios where the world’s vision of the loving thing to do contradicts what we are taught by St. Paul and by Jesus.
A primary example is the world’s approach to love and marriage. The whole notion of a life-long commitment to another person is seen either as a theoretical ideal or an antiquated belief of those who are now either in nursing homes or are in the ground. I heard a comedian joke that when he was about to ‘pop the question’ he had to think long and hard about whether this was the woman with whom he wanted to spend the next five to ten years of his life.
Today’s reading from St. Paul is a common selection for wedding Masses, and fittingly so since it tells us what love is. I don’t know how often or if ever it is pointed out that the word ‘feelings’ is never mentioned by St. Paul, but it would be a great reminder to those who might wake up one day and notice that they have “lost that lovin’ feeling.”
On one’s wedding day a promise is made – the only promise that really, really matters. Fewer people break their promise to pay back their college loans than break their promise to be united in love to another person – a person who, by the way, they freely chose - for the rest of their lives. Imagine if the United States, let alone Catholics in the United States, had a divorce rate similar to the college loan default rate of 12%.
So in his 1st Letter to the Corinthians St. Paul gives us the roadmap to travel the oftentimes rocky course of marital love. For any married person, reading verses 4 to 7 of the 13th chapter of this letter would be a great way to start each day. The path from the blissful wedding day to the day when a spouse is ‘served papers’ is a gradual one, but in each case there is a tipping point when the unthinkable becomes the inevitable. To keep these verses in mind every day is to go a long way towards avoiding the situation where the dissolution of a lifelong promise becomes a viable, seemingly unavoidable, option.
As long as the words of St. Paul are at the forefront of our thoughts then we can stay in love, for to stay in love means to “bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.” In the spirit of Pope Francis and his emphasis on God’s infinite mercy let us pray that all who are married – both now and in the future – will be open to this teaching of St. Paul and will, on a daily basis, be the personification of God’s merciful love for their spouses.