Thursday, February 1, 2024

God's Gift of Love Makes Us Fully Human

Here is the great text of Saint Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth, a text that draws us close to the heart of the Gospel: “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 with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will p cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing. For we know partially and we prophesy partially, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13).

The "love" here is not just any sort of love. It is "agape" which the venerable Latin of Saint Jerome translates as "caritas" and which we know to be the theological virtue of charity.

So we're not just talking about "love" in the vague way that the word is used in contemporary English to cover a multitude of diverse actions, emotions, preferences, impulses. We mean something more here than what we mean when we say, "I love mashed potatoes," for example (though there is a common—and mysterious—reality underlying these various kinds of "love," but that's a topic for another day).

1 Corinthians 13 is talking about the supernatural virtue of charity, God's own love in which we are called and empowered to participate through God's grace and His utterly mysterious, free and supernatural gift of Himself.

All of this is true. Yet this love is also profoundly human. Look at how Saint Paul describes "agape"—patient, kind, not pompous, not rude, not grudge-bearing, rejoicing in the truth, enduring all things.

Enduring all things. That certainly seems beyond any sort of limited human love. But also patient, kind, not pompous, not rude, not quick-tempered or self-interested. It rejoices in the truth. It never fails.

This is a close, intimate love. It is a human love, the most human of loves. It is the love that we have been created to give and receive, and which we long for whether we know it or not.

Indeed, this inexhaustible Love corresponds to our whole humanity, because He-who-is-Love has entered our history. He has become flesh. The Infinite Mystery has become a man, so that He could save us, so He could embrace the whole of our humanity, so that we might be healed from all sin that alienates us from Him, and “lifted up” to share His eternal life as His brothers and sisters, children of His Father, vivified and transfigured by the Holy Spirit.


He is the only real meaning of human existence—the One through whom and for whom all things are created and sustained in being, the One who encompasses, fulfills, and overflows all the hopes and aspirations of our lives. Love has given Himself to us, to each and every one of us, so that we could be touched by Him and respond to Him with faith and hope, with trust, and be transformed into lovers of Him and of one another.

If I look at these verses seriously, I can't help but be struck by the fact that my life is so far from being this way. It causes me sorrow, and sometimes I am tempted to look away, to settle for some lesser kind of love. But I would have to lie to myself (and others too) because I know deep down that this love is the only thing that matters in the end. I was created for this love. You were created for this love. Every human person was created for this love. It seems too much to believe, but who would dare to deny it? If we reject this unfathomable but at the same time inescapably concrete fact, life falls apart, our humanity falls apart, and we begin to become monsters...

We are made for this Love that "bears all things," this Love that never ends.

Can we "live" this Love? Jesus is here, in the midst of our history, our daily lives, and He gives this Love to us from the Father, in the Holy Spirit. He is here even for those who do not yet know Him, but whose hearts are stirred up by the Holy Spirit to beg for a love they don't understand. They have hints and signs and mysterious interior personal and communally-shared realizations of His nearness, in the midst of their searching and whatever level of obscurity (and light) characterizes this particular moment of their life's journey. We Christians walk this road with them, struggling with our own sins and our own limits and myopia. If we have been called and gifted by Christ with the truth of the Gospel, it is to be witnesses, to serve everyone, to beg with greater awareness of our total need for Him.

Nothing prevents us from following the call of Love, of opening our hearts to the transforming power of this Love. We must never become discouraged. We may stumble again and again in the ways of love, but He is with us, always ready to lift us up and lead us forward if we let Him. We can begin again, every day, because He has come to dwell with us. God became our brother because He wants to be with us.

Let us place our confidence in Him, and begin again.