Today’s second reading is one that probably most of us recognize. Probably many of you had it read at your wedding. It’s not just good for a wedding because there’s nothing better out there, or because it’s uncomfortable to hear about wailing and gnashing of teeth on your wedding day, but because it’s a reading that fits the day! Actually, a lot of couples in marriage preparation will come and say, “We know the phrase ‘Love is patient, love is kind’, but we don’t remember what reading it is!” It’s something that sticks with us, something that resonates with us. It’s part of our human nature to be attracted to love.
We were created to love, and to love – without that, we whither and die. Sometimes, you might look up here and see one of the candles bright and shining with a tall flame, and the other candle barely lit because the wick is buried in the wax – that’s what life without love is like! John Paul II repeated over and over again that love is at the heart of the meaning of our lives. He mentioned this in Redemptor Hominis, his first encyclical. Now for a pope, the first encyclical is important, because it’s sort of a teaser trailer for all the rest of their pontificate, and really, I’m sure we could say that about John Paul II as well. He said, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him, if he does not encounter love, if he does not experience it and make it his own, if he does not participate intimately in it.”
It’s difficult to live this. We don’t know or we don’t show that we know what it means, kind of like a teenage boy who’s mother forces him to say he loves her before leaving for school. We can say the words, but what’s the meaning behind them? What gives them substance? St. Paul in his famous first chapter of 1 Corinthians tries to show us today. Love is the meaning of life – it is the “highest gift”, and the “greatest” of all virtues. He gives us this long description with 14 characteristics for Christ-like love. Love is patient, love is kind, it’s not jealous or rude or self-seeking, or quick-tempered and on and on with all the things that those brides remember. These are the ways that Christ loves us, and how we are called to love others. What’s striking is how different they are from the values of our culture. Love for our culture is often times self-centered.
It reminds me of a story that I heard about a man who went to the doctor with his wife. The wife was waiting in the reception area while the husband was in getting his examination. And the doctor emerged from the office with a somewhat concerned look, making the wife very anxious. “Doctor, will my husband be okay?” she inquired. “I’m afraid your husband is very ill,” the doctor replied. “He has a rare form of anemia, and if it is left untreated, he will most certainly die from it. However, there is a cure.” “A cure?” “Yes. With rest and proper nutrition, the disease will go into remission and your husband should live for many more years. Here’s what I want you to do: Take your husband home and treat him like a king. Fix him three home-cooked meals a day, and wait on him hand and foot. Bring him breakfast in bed. Don’t let him do anything that you can do for him. If he needs something, you take care of it. Oh, and one more thing. Because his immune system is weak, you’ll need to keep your home spotless. Any questions?” The wife had none. “Do you want to break the news to your husband, or shall I?” asked the doctor. “Oh please, doctor, let me break it to him,” the wife replied. She walked into the examination room. The husband, sensing that something was wrong, said, “It’s bad, isn’t it? What have I got?” His wife answered with a tear in her eye, “The doctor said you’re going to die.” Now, I doubt the doctor could do that these days with the HIPAA laws, but still. It’s funny, but in a way, it’s what we’re like! We believe in Christ-like love, but we don’t like the sacrifice that goes along with it.
For our culture, love tends to be a passive thing – it sweeps you off your feet and takes control. But for St. Paul, love is not passive at all! It’s more than a feeling, it’s a self-giving which is shown through patience, kindess, forgiveness, and courage. Sometimes feelings go along with that, but they shouldn’t be the core of what love is for us. We know that because the pinnacle of love, Christ giving himself to us on the Cross, had nothing to do with nice feelings.
About a week ago, I had the opportunity to travel with a group of teens from our parish to Washington DC for the March for Life, and we as a parish should be very proud of them. Yes, we went to protest and exercise our freedom of speech, but the real reason we were there was to witness to the power of love: the love of parents for their children, the support of those who can’t support a child and feel pressured into abortion, the love even for those who commit these acts and continue to support them. It was about 25 degrees outside. Our feet were frozen and tired. There were protestors against the protestors calling us horrible offensive things. And despite this, despite the fact that it wasn’t popular or comfortable, the teens from All Saints witnessed out of love. That’s what love is: it endures and energizes even when (especially when) it isn’t comfortable. Blessed Mother Theresa said, “I have found the paradox that if I love until it hurts, then there is no hurt, but only more love.”
Love has to be the heart of all we do at our parish. We do so many good things: host fundraisers, open our doors to the homeless, educate the young, go to Belize to help those in poverty, sell t-shirts and salsa and Christmas wreaths. But without love, what’s the point? If we do these things without love, we’re really no different than the McDonalds down the street, exchanging goods or services. Love is embracing, and love is challenging. And it’s that love, the love of Christ, that should be at the heart of everything we do as a parish.
The love that Jesus shows us here isn’t some passing, self-indulging emotion, one that just wants to get what we can out of something or someone. It’s a courageous, sacrificial, and enduring lifestyle that we learn through the gift of ourselves to others. And this lifestyle is summed up in one symbol – the crucifix. So as we approach the Lord in the Eucharist today, that sincere gift of Himself out of love for us, let us strive to live that same lifestyle, and give that gift of ourselves to God and to others.