Wednesday of the Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
(I Corinthians 12:31-13:13)
A preacher once remarked about the difficulty in preaching about love. He said something like, “The only place we are sure that we know what we are talking about when we talk about ‘love’ is in tennis. And there ‘love’ means ‘nothing at all.’” We might notice how St. Paul suggests the difficulty in speaking about love by not attempting to define it in his famous “hymn to love” that comprises the first reading today. Rather he gives a phenomenological description telling us first the importance of love, then its similarities and dissimilarities, and finally its uniqueness. Let’s examine each of these issues.
St. Thomas Aquinas affirmed that charity or “love of friendship” animates all the other virtues. This means what Paul illustrates in the text. Eloquence and foresight, even faith and generosity will come to nothing if love does not shape their ends. We might say with Sartre that human life is a useless passion, if love did not provide it a transcendent purpose.
We get a glimpse of love’s nature by noting how caring it is of the other person. Love not only concerns itself with the other’s needs (“patient” and “kind”) but also avoids causing the other distress (“not inflated,” “not rude,” etc.). Joseph Pieper defines love as affirmation of another so that one can say, “It’s good that you exist!” This may sound like a weak-kneed definition, but it is meant to be comprehensive and inclusive like Paul with his lists of positive and negative adjectives for love.
Paul never equates God with love like the First Letter of John, but he seems on the verge of this conclusion when he writes that of the three enduring virtues, love is the greatest. Evidently, even in the Beatific Vision there will be need of faith, probably because God is an incomprehensible mystery, always beyond our understanding. We may wonder about the need for hope if in everlasting life the human person has fulfilled her or his goal. In any case, love is certainly the greatest theological virtue because it alone participates in God’s supreme activity.