The Irish Spirit – Issue No. 3
From the book Tired of all the Bad News by Fr Bryan Shortall
Love is always patient and kind. Love is never jealous. Love is not boastful or conceited. Love is never rude and never seeks its own advantage. Love does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in the truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. Love never comes to an end. But if there are prophecies, they will be done away with; if tongues, they will fall silent; and if knowledge, it will be done away with. For we know only imperfectly, and we prophesy imperfectly, but once perfection comes, all imperfect things will be done away with.
When I was a child, I used to talk like a child, and see things as a child does, and think like a child, but now that I have become an adult, I have finished with all childish ways. Now we see only reflections in a mirror, mere riddles, but then we shall be seeing face to face. Now I can know only imperfectly; but then I shall know just as fully as I am myself known.
As it is, these remain: faith, hope and love, the three of them; and the greatest of them is love (1 Cor 13).
When St Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthians he was challenging them to reach for the stars, to be ambitious for the higher gifts. He was offering them a set of guiding principles for their love lives.
This love he speaks of is not the same kind of love that does well on February fourteenth. This is not about candlelit dinners, cuddly toys, Valentine’s cards, or boxes of praline chocolates. All these things are good in themselves, but this is not what Paul is writing about. The love he writes to the Corinthians about will not put on any weight and is completely guilt-free if well lived. The kind of love that Paul describes is a recipe for happiness where it matters: on the inside, and this will be radiated to all we encounter.
It is a love that turns away from humiliating the other person, and it does not enjoy other people’s sins. It is opposed to scandal and gossip, preferring to tell the truth instead. St Paul’s view of love warns us against human prophesying, which is always imperfect. Putting our trust in horoscopes or fortune tellers can be troublesome. Instead, by putting our trust in God, we will always know who can take us forward in kindness.
The love that St Paul describes is also given another name: caritas, which means charity. This means charity to all in need, but in its essence it also means a deep love that is selfless, so it sets the bar very high. It is a love for the honours course and it is for the long haul. It is a love that walks the road of life and it is a love that puts the other person first.
Today, couples often choose St Paul’s letter to the Corinthians as the second reading at their church wedding ceremony. I believe that the challenge he lays down to the people of Corinth in the first century after Christ is as relevant to us now in the twenty-first. Set your hearts on the higher gifts.