The Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time [C]
Jeremiah 1:4-5,17-19 + 1 Corinthians 12:31—13:13 [or 1 Cor 13:4-13] + Luke 4:21-30
January 30, 2022
But I shall show you a still more excellent way.
While the Scripture readings of any given Sunday’s Mass generally build up to the passage from the Gospel, this Sunday the Second Reading is more likely to grab our attention. This passage of Saint Paul has much to teach us if we resist the tendency to interpret it according to our own standards. Instead, we need to allow it to lead us to the heart of the Gospel, where God’s standard is far greater: more demanding, but also more fulfilling.
In our success-oriented society, we set goals for ourselves and strive with all we’ve got to accomplish them. If we don’t succeed, we ask what’s wrong with ourselves. Parents fault themselves over mistakes made by their grown children. When investments made for one’s future dissolve, it’s easy to feel as if one’s own personal value has dissolved.
Yet in truth, the only fact that finally has meaning in my life is that I am loved by others, not the fact of what I myself accomplish. Work can be a great good, and is necessary in this world. But love is a greater good and is necessary for this world as well as the next. Our lives as Christians are meant to be dedicated to pursuing this greater good that St. Paul preaches about in the Second Reading.
Sometimes “love” is made into something abstract or vague, but today’s Scripture readings help us see God’s love as something very concrete. Every one of us as a baptized Christian needs to be able to see this love as the goal of our lives. It is our goal in two senses. In the second and deeper sense, this love is what those in Heaven experience: the Presence of God’s eternal love. Yet in a primary sense, God deigns to allow us a share in this love here and now, if only fleetingly.
Most often, we experience love in the midst of a family. Yet whether you consider the family that you grew up in, or the family that you chose and created through marriage, or the extended family into which you married, love among human beings is often very fragile.
Regarding this love that Saint Paul preaches about in 1 Corinthians 13, perhaps the most important thing for us to keep in mind is that it calls us beyond ourselves. That is to say, this love calls us to self-transcendence. We see the perfect example of this love on Calvary. This “real love” is, in fact, God’s very essence—Saint John tells us in his first letter that God is love—and therefore this real love is infinite, beyond our capacity to exhaust.
The person who truly loves does not rest in the past, and does not live only for the future. This person lives rooted in the present, even when this means living amidst distress, as Jesus is in today’s Gospel passage. We do not seek to exhaust God’s love. We simply seek to live within it, knowing that in its power we can survive any danger, even if we are carried by love beyond the standards we want to set for ourselves.
According to the world, every person is free to love as he or she sees fit. But Christ and His Church teach us that there is only one real type of love, and that only this “real love” is strong enough to bind two together, whether in marriage, or in the union between a human person and God.
To live in real love is always to love by God’s standards: that is, to seek to understand what He wants for us, and then to be willing to do what it takes to make that a reality. This is difficult because we can so often fool ourselves into thinking that God’s Will and our own so conveniently match.
Only in consistent prayer can a person ask over and over if something is God’s will. The more important a decision in a person’s life, the more times God should be asked about it in prayer. The more important a decision in a person’s life, the more one should carry out some sort of penance such as fasting in order to purify one’s own mind and heart of selfish wants and desires, to purify them so that God’s Word can be recognized, be received, and take flesh in one’s life.