The beautiful passage which we hear today from the First Letter to the Corinthians is familiar to most priests, since it is one of the most commonly chosen readings for wedding masses. It is only natural that couples would want to have this text proclaimed at their wedding, as it extolls the nature and power of love. A person would have to be pretty cynical not to be moved when hearing the eloquent description of this most precious of all virtues: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, it is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests… It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-5, 7).
Every newly-married couple wants to relish the joy, trust, and strength that love brings into a relationship, and happily many do benefit from a loving marriage till the end of their lives. Others however experience the pain of a relationship that began with deep love but which grew cold over time, or which was torn by infidelity or selfishness—we do not like to think about such things but they take place in almost everyone’s circle of family and friends. When a “till death do we part” commitment is broken it can make a person wonder about the very essence of love…is true love really attainable?
Turning to the gospel for a moment, we find that our Lord has returned to his hometown of Nazareth and preaches in the synagogue there. While the crowd is initially captivated by his words, they quickly turn against him and come close to throwing him off of a cliff. As Jesus himself says “no prophet is accepted in his own native place”: the hometown hero became a pariah very quickly! Jesus himself felt the sting in that moment of the corruption of love that eventually finds its way into every human life. The important point to recall however is not his rejection at the hands of his fellow townspeople, but rather the fact that this event took place at the beginning of his ministry, and that he went on to dedicate his entire remaining life and ministry to helping people recover from the wounds that result when a loved one turns against them.
Through the long course of the gospel Jesus shows us that even when the “perfect” love we imagine when first falling in love shows itself to be less than perfect, we can still have hope that the virtues that derive from love will sustain us and lead us back to a relationship now marked by some dents and scrapes, but which is stronger and more devoted than we could have imagined at first. Patience, kindness, fidelity, humility, self-giving, and trust; these are the fruits of love which is tested by the ups and downs of life, and which comes through ever more beautiful than before.
Whether it be in a relationship with one’s spouse or with one’s children, whether within the family, the larger community, or in a person’s relationship with God, love is a virtue which is both elusive and enticing. As the Church prepares to begin the Lenten season in little more than a week we would do ourselves a favor by renewing our focus on imitating the qualities of love that St. Paul describes in First Corinthians. Then this greatest of all Christian virtues will offer us in its many different forms an anchor in times of distress and insight into the fidelity and graciousness of God in moments of joy.
Father Edward Mazich, O.S.B.