This morning, we hear St. Paul’s famous treatise on love. They are iconic words: “Love is patient, love is kind…” And they reach a summit when Paul says: “love never fails.”
But is this our experience today? Among many of the young—and yes, even among some of the old—there is a growing cynicism and skepticism here. I mean, is love really forever?
* * *
Pope St. John Paul II wrote extensively and beautifully on the nature of love. In one of his works (Love and Responsibility), he points out that human beings have the capacity to see in another person a “Somebody” with a heart and mind and desires to be known and loved—just as we do. We also have the capacity to know that all of us have something Eternal and of immense value in us such that “before [God] formed you in the womb, [He] knew you.” We have eternal souls; we are made in the image and likeness of God.
Love, if it is truly love, will go to great lengths to see this and to uphold these divine and eternal realities in ourselves and in the Other.
So, for example, a person who loves another will never treat that other person as a mere object; no, a person who loves will always see that other as a Someone of great value: with an eternal soul and having the divine image and a heart that is made for love.
Pope St. John Paul II, therefore, notes that the opposite of love is not anger—as odd as that sounds (for anger may be revealing that a love has been hurt. At which point, love may still be there! It is possible to love a person and be angry at them at the same time).
The opposite of love is not anger, it is use. Let me repeat that: the opposite of love is use: to turn a person into an object for my own gratification and satisfactions, to forget that they are a Somebody eternal, beautiful, and loved.
To use a person forgets their dignity and undermines our own!
In sum, it is impossible to uphold a person’s dignity and to empty it at the same time; it is impossible to love a person and to use at the same time.
* * *
If we understand this, we can extrapolate why the Church teaches many of the things She does concerning many of the hot-button topics of our day. I could list many here, but for our purposes it is enough to say that there is disagreement out there about what the Church teaches—and, often, the disagreement is lobbed at us (usually by appeal to the Golden Rule) with the accusation that our teachings are not very loving.
The world’s arguments seem convincing, since we live in a post-Christian, relativistic culture, where the word love has been hijacked to mean whatever we want it to mean. The Corinthians were doing the same during Paul’s day and age. And it’s why Paul writes to them about the nature of love.
So this is the crux of the matter: what is the nature of love?
Love, it would seem, is defined by the Golden Rule: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But what if you don’t mind being used? Surely, we cannot say that love could exist in a world where everyone is using everyone else, rationalizing it by appeal to the Golden Rule!
The Golden rule is not the definition of love; rather, it presumes it. And so Jesus comes forward and provides the definition. He says:
“Love one another as I have loved you.”
It is not enough to treat others as you want to be treated; we must treat others as Jesus loves us!
So, to get at the nature of love, we must see how Love Himself, Jesus, has loved us:
When we nailed him to the Cross, “love *pointing to Jesus on the Cross* Love did not brood over injury.” When we dismissed Him and He had every right to get angry at us, “Love *Jesus on the Cross* was not quick-tempered.” When we sought our own interests and were inflated, pompous, and rude, Love was “patient” and “kind.” He bore all things (including the Cross under which He fell three times), believing and hoping all things (including our conversion), and enduring all things (even the loss of all of His friends who abandoned Him).
That’s how he loves us. That’s love defined. Because Jesus is love—He is its definition. He is the “love that never fails.”
* * *
Paul translates this into our lives when he says, “When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child…”—I was selfish, I used people, I was inflated, I was rude and pompous. I thought I knew better than the Church and I brooded over injury and I sought only my own interests, going so far as to cast Jesus headlong over the hill in the name of what I thought was love.
That’s how perverse Paul’s understanding of love was. That’s how irrational the people in the Gospel were today: they would cast Jesus who is Love over the brow of the hill and in the name of love!
Did Jesus condemn Paul? No. He loved him. Jesus came to Paul and asked him why. Jesus mercifully invited Paul to examine his life. And so Paul would write, in time, “when I became a man, I put aside childish things.” When I started to love as Christ loved, I started to see that love carried with it responsibility.
It was not enough to promise love and to treat another as something to use and cast away. It was not enough to express vows and then to seek my own interests. It was not love to do things contrary to love, to Jesus and His Church. Love, after all, does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the Truth!
This is the truth about love: Love is a Person, Jesus Christ. And for us to love-- and to love in the Truth of love-- means to become another Christ. Only then will our love "bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, endure all things." Only then will our love never fail! For Jesus Christ, who is Love, never fails!