Fr. Paul's Homily
As you know, Valentine’s Day is a couple weeks away. Someone sent to me a list of children’s descriptions of love. I want to share some of them with you.
--“When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandpa does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.” Rebecca, 8.
--“When someone loves you, the way they say your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in their mouth.” Billy, 4.
--“Love is what makes you smile when you are tired.” Terri, 4.
--Love is when my mommy makes coffee for my daddy and she takes a sip before giving it to him, to make sure the taste is OK.” Danny, 8.
--Love is what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.” Bobby, 7.
--“If you want to learn to love better, you should start with a friend who you hate.” Nikka, 6.
--“Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends after they know each other so well.” Tommy, 6.
--“Love is when Mommy sees Daddy smelly and sweaty and still says he is handsomer than Robert Redford.”
--I know my sister loves me because she gives me all her old clothes and has to go out and buy new ones.” Lauren, 4.
--“When you love somebody, your eyelashes go up and down and little stars come out of you.” Karen, 7. Isn’t that beautiful!
Wow! Out of the mouth of babes come such wisdom. I would like to talk about love today, especially in the context of the reading from First Corinthians today.
As many of you know this reading from chapter 13 of St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians is the most popular reading for weddings. It was true when I became a priest in 1977 and it is true today. However, if you were married before about 1970 you were probably not given the choice to pick their readings. But for those who did choose your readings, “How many people here chose this reading for your wedding?”
It might be helpful to know the context for this reading. St. Paul has been talking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit and how everyone did not have the same gifts. Some members of the community had the gift of teaching, while others had the gift of administration. Some could speak in tongues while others interpreted tongues. The important fact was that all members of the church were to use their gifts, not for self satisfaction, but to build up the community, the Body of Christ. Each gift had value in Paul’s mind, just like each part of the body is important and has value. However, apparently St. Paul was dealing with a community that had divisions and people were using their gifts as a way of showing that they were more important than others in the community. In a sense, the gifts of the Spirit were being used to divide, not to unite!
Into this setting St. Paul tells us that if we have the greatest faith in the world and we have profound courage in facing persecutions, but if we do not have love, then we have nothing!! In other words, we can do great things as faithful people, but if we do not do them with love, they mean nothing!! Think about that!
--I can be a great educator and be able to offer interesting classes on the faith, but if I do not have love, it is worth nothing.
--I can be a great CYO coach and win the city championship over and over again, but if I do not love my players and treat them with respect, I have nothing.
--I can be a great bread earner for the family and provide for all my children’s material needs, but if I do not show love to my family, it means nothing.
St. Paul then goes on to give meaning to the word love (this is the part most remember): “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 is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.”
What amazes me about this choice at weddings, that while it sound romantic, it is actually very, very hard! How hard it can be to be patient and kind; or to not let our temper get the best of us? For those who have been married for many years, is it a struggle to NOT brood over old injuries or to NOT be a little happy when you catch your spouse in a mistake???
Love begins with an attitude of the mind and heart. We must choose to look upon another with love, even when we have been married to them for 50 years! I am re-reading Pope Francis’ book, “The Joy of the Gospel.” He says that the challenge for a Christian is to look at a person with such compassion, mercy and understanding, that regardless of appearances, what we see is beauty!!
When I was in Honduras last week, we visited the home of a 97 year old woman who loved in a very poor home with her husband and her special needs adult child. I took a picture of her and then showed her the picture! What I failed to realize that there were no mirrors in the house and she probably had not seen herself in years! I was hoping that showing her the picture on my phone would be a positive experience, but all she talked about was all the wrinkles on her face!! But you know what? I bet her husband of 70 plus years, loves every one of those wrinkles! As Pope Francis says, when we look at another with compassion and understanding, regardless of appearance, we see beauty!
Love involves a feeling, but even more so, love involves a decision and an attitude. Love, in its truest form, is a choice I make. The words, “I love you” are very important and we probably do not say them enough, but what is better is when I CHOOSE to be patient and kind to them; when I CHOOSE to not lose my temper and be rude; when I CHOOSE to be happy with their successes.
Marriage Encounter, a wonderful retreat movement for couples, has always said that “Love is a decision” and it is! We decide to love, to forgive, to be patient, to share, to compliment, to respect. In reality when one sees love as a decision, there is a tremendous freedom in this. As long as love is seen as a feeling, we are enslaved to our feelings, which we don’t always control. Non-loving feelings can often occur because of stress, hormones or fatigue. If love is a decision, I am always free to love because I can always DECIDE to love!! This is wonderful.
St. Paul ends this reading today with the words, “So faith, hope and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” Why is love the greatest? Maybe it is because faith and hope help us to get to God, but LOVE is God!! At the very heart of the nature of God is Love. Wow, think about that! When we think of the all powerful Being who is the Creator of the Universe, remember that this Being, this Power, this Presence is Love!! Why should we be scared of life if the most powerful reality is Love!
Know that God’s Love surrounds us. Know that when our love is weak, we can call on God’s Love to enable us. We do not have to be perfect…we just need to keep trying to love.
Let me conclude with a little twist on our opening insights on life by the children. Allow me to remove the word, “Love” and replace it with the word “God”.
--When God loves you, the way he says your name is different. You just know that your name is safe in God’s mouth.
--God is what makes you smile when you’re tired.
--God is what is in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and just listen.
--God is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.