Holy Mother Church has been warming us up. Two weeks ago on Septuagesima Sunday she reminded us of the seriousness of life: “Many are called but few are chosen…. Run to win!” Last week we read the parable of the sower with its sober reminder that the seed, in order to grow, must fall on good ground that is cultivated and kept, lest it be overrun by the weeds of earthly desires. Today, along with the prophecy of Our Lord’s passion, death and resurrection, we are treated to the Hymn to Charity from St Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians.
It would seem that, as we prepare to enter the arena of Lenten restrictions, our good Mother the Church wants us ever to keep in mind that, whatever penance or self-denial we might impose upon ourselves, we must never forget the very heart of the New Law, which is love for God and neighbour. This is all the more important when we know by experience that giving up certain things requires effort and can cause stress. When that happens we need to remind ourselves that in the end, the only thing that we will really be judged upon is our love. Do I love God? Do I prefer the love of Christ to all things? Do I show true love and compassion for neighbour, this neighbour who is right here at my side and who is perhaps getting on my nerves? Let us never forget that, in the end, we will be judged on our love.
St Paul’s profound teaching on charity, in the 13th Chapter of his first epistle to the Corinthians, has intrigued commentators for centuries by its amazing precision in describing the attributes of true Christian love. It would be fastidious in a homily to enumerate them, but we can have a glance at a few of them.
Love does not insist on its own way; it is disinterested; it knows how to put aside its own views. St Benedict tells us that one of the instruments of good works is to seek not what is useful for self but what is useful for others. Especially in community life, this can be hard, but it is the hallmark of true fraternal love.
Love is not irritable or resentful. It does not become exasperated, whatever it might have to endure. It always has the gaze of one who seeks the true good of the other because the other is created in the image of God. In the world one can often encounter a certain manifested esteem or respect without which life together is impossible. But that is not Christian charity. Christian charity loves the other for himself because the other is destined to see God. Christian charity loves the other because Christ loved that other to the pont of shedding the last drop of his blood for him. That’s the bottom line.
Love bears all things. It – to quote a modern exegete – puts up with everything for a limitless duration; it waits patiently not only because it deals patiently with the loved one but also because it recognises that the right timing plays a huge part in securing the welfare, the true welfare, that is to say, the eternal salvation of the other.
In the end that is what love is about, and that love is offered to us in the Most Holy Eucharist. Let us approach then with faith and trust that, nourished by this heavenly bread, we can learn how to love, even unto death.