“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, 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 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
This passage is probably one of the most well-known passages of the New Testament and was the second reading this past Sunday in Mass. Particularly the middle section, “Love is patient, love is kind…” These words have been set to music, used at weddings, in anniversary cards, on candles and plaques for the home, and so on. Even those who may not be familiar with the Bible have likely heard these words before. Many of us can rattle off the passage by heart, having heard or read it so many times. The beauty of these words touches people. But the popularity of these verses can sometimes cause us to forget their true meaning.
I have heard people say when planning a wedding that they do not want to use this reading because it is “overdone” or “cliché.” Yes it may be read a lot, and yes it is used in many weddings, but I believe it is so popular because it rings with truth. This beautiful passage describes the ultimate love. Not only between a husband and wife, but between God and ourselves. It describes God Himself and the qualities we should strive for here on earth.
There can be no love outside of God. God is love. (1 John 4:8) So what if we try reading the same passage, but with “God” in place of the word “love.”
“If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have God, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have God, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have God, I gain nothing. God is patient, God is kind. He is not jealous, is not pompous, He is not inflated, He is not rude, He does not seek its own interests, He is not quick-tempered, He does not brood over injury, He does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. He bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. God never fails.”
When you read the passage in this way, it forces you to look beyond the love between a man and a woman. It forces you to go deeper. In today’s society, many people are of the opinion that because they live a good life, are kind and loving to each other, that is all they need to do. They do not feel the need for religion, for faith, for church or prayer. Spread happy thoughts, live happily, help the needy. While these are all excellent things, without the true love that can only be found through God, without God Himself in our life, what does it matter? Many people put their faith in themselves, in hard work, in the people they love instead of placing that faith in God. Without God, we are nothing. We can do all sorts of wonderful things with our lives, but if we do not have God at the very center, we are still lacking.
Since God is love, the qualities that Paul writes of love are true of describing God Himself. God is patient. Although we may sin time and time again, although we may stray from His path, He waits for us with open arms every time. God is kind. He is not jealous or rude or boastful or selfish. In fact, God is so kind and giving that He gave us His only Son, forgiving us of all wrongdoing, of all injury. He does not rejoice because we make a mistake, does not revel in punishing, but loves us unconditionally. God bears all things. He believes in us, He hopes for us to turn to Him, He endures our failings and awaits our return to His never-ending grace. He never fails. No matter what difficulties we may encounter, He will never fail us. We can always rely on Him. How amazing is that?
Knowing that this beautiful scripture describes the ultimate love that is only found through God and is God, we must go a bit further. We are called to love one another as God our Father loves us. And not just to love our spouse, our parents, our children, our friends, but to love our enemies as well. We are called to extend this love that Paul writes about to everyone. To truly exemplify God through our own expression of love. We are called to be patient and kind. We are called to be forgiving of wrongdoings and to rejoice in the truth of our Lord and Savior rather than to be jealous or involved only in ourselves. We are called to hold our temper, to let go of the hurts we have dealt with, to bear and endure all our troubles, all the faults against us with grace through Jesus Christ. We are called to always believe and hope in God and to share that with others. That is a lot to live up to! How in the world can we who are only human and are subject to so many earthly temptations hold up to such a standard? The answer? Only with God. We can try our very best, but as Paul tells us, without love, without God, we are nothing. Everything else we know will come to an end. We grow up, we learn more, things change. Friends, career, wealth, these can all come and go. All that we have constant is faith, hope, and love. And the greatest is love. The greatest is God. Because without God, without love, what have we to hope in? What do we put our faith in? The love of God must be at the center and greater than all else in our lives.
God knows us better than we even know ourselves. He created us in His own image and loves us with a love so deep, so pure, so true, that we cannot even comprehend it. This beautiful scripture shows us a glimpse of the power and wonder of that love. God can work in many ways. Perhaps the so called “cliché” nature of this reading is in fact God spreading these words of love even to those who may not fully believe. I know I myself have these words in my home in many places, but so often I glance at the familiar verses without truly thinking about the meaning behind them. And so today my prayer is that we all may take these familiar words to heart. To keep God at the center of our lives and to always be reminded of how truly amazing His love is. To learn how to better love our spouses, our family members, our friends, and even our enemies. To remember that without love, without God, we are nothing. And above all, to remember that even in the most trying of times, love prevails. Love never fails. God never fails.