Gina was at Mass. She was really trying to pay attention to the readings this week and not let her mind wander. As she listened Gina recognized the second reading: that famous one from St. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians about love being patient; love being kind. And she thought to herself, “Bill and I had that reading at our wedding.” Then she smiled and thought, “Did we have any clue thirty years ago what St Paul was talking about? It took her a long time, and the experience of some real hardships—-some up’s and downs and moments of despair—-to come to a true appreciation of what it means to say that love is not jealous or rude, that it is not pompous nor does it seek its own interests….”Maybe I learned the hard way, Gina thought, “but I certainly am a better person because of those grace-filled experiences, difficult as they were, and having St Paul’s profound words of faith” to help me through them.
Scripture scholars call those verses from the letter to the Corinthians St. Paul’s “hymn to love”, and it is one of the most magnificent passages in the literature of the world. What’s really at the heart of this “hymn to love”? I think it’s this: Love is willing the good of the other. Or, doing what is good (or doing what is best) for the other person. It is desiring, not one’s own good by means of another, but the good of the other as other. It is getting away from making everything about “me” (as one writer called it, “the black hole of egotistic preoccupation”) and want, really want, what is best for one’s neighbor—-for those we say we love.
Gina remembered that there were times in her life when she had to be patient…love is patient. She really had to try hard not to “brood over injuries” when she was faced with her husband’s alcoholism. She remembers going to a trusted friend when she was at her wits end and thinking of walking out on Bill. She still can hear the words of her friend that made all the difference: “Harm does not come to us from external circumstances, but from how we react to them interiorly. What ruins our souls is not what happens outside, but the echo that it awakes within us. The harm that other people do to me never comes from them, it comes from me if I allow it”. Those words really helped Gina. And deep down she knew that she would not walk out. She knew that Bill needed her strength and support. And Bill’s continued sobriety is due in many ways to the loving support and good example of his wife.
Yes, St. Paul’s words are very beautiful, but they are also difficult to live out. This Hymn to Love is meant to be more than just the reading of choice at a wedding Mass. St. Paul’s words really capture the very heart of why Jesus accepted the cross, and why we, as Christians, try to follow the message of Christ each day. St Paul is really trying to tell us what God is like because God is love. When we meditate on these words we are placing ourselves in the presence of the Lord who loves us with great patience and with great kindness.