While attending the Vigil Mass for this Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time last evening, as I was listening to the longer version of the second reading from St. Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, his "hymn to love," I was struck by these words: "Love... is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth" (1 Cor. 13:5b-6).
Two things stood out in my mind as I pondered these words, one more general and one uncomfortably personal. Generally, what I was struck by is the fact that in many respects we are not that different from people who lived 2,000 years ago. New Testament scholars tell us that the apostle's First Letter to the Corinthians and his First Letter to the Thessalonians were the earliest books of our uniquely Christian Scriptures to be written, both dating from the around AD 50. The fact that I found this somewhat comforting only serves to show the hold these "not love" qualities exert upon me and my willingness to cooperate. This is a nice segue to the more personal point.
Before Mass I went to confession. Without making a public confession of my sins, these words touched on an area that I would be hard-pressed to point out the last time I did not mention them as part of my confession. Especially at home, I am often quick-tempered and prone to brood over injury, especially in my relationship with my wife. Rejoicing over the wrongdoing of others is another place the Holy Spirit prompted me to check myself, especially since I made the determination to weigh in on the events affecting the Church in Los Angeles.
Even before Mass yesterday, I was reminded of something put out by Communion & Liberation back around Easter in 2010, when questions kicked up about the Holy Father's handling of an abusive priest when he was the archbishop of Munich and Freising: "Alongside all the limitations and within the Church’s wounded humanity, is there or is there not something greater than sin, something radically greater than sin? Is there something that can shatter the inexorable weight of our evil? Something that, as the Pope writes, 'has the power to forgive even the greatest of sins, and to bring forth good even from the most terrible evil'?"
To my mind and from the depths of my own heart the only possible answer is "Yes. It is Christ Jesus the Lord."
In the words of St. Silouan the Athonite: "The man who cries out against evil men, but does not pray for them will never know the grace of God." There certainly are evil people in the world, but we are all guilty of committing evil acts and letting evil reside in our hearts. As St. Paul pointed out: "For there is no distinction; all have sinned and are deprived of the glory of God" (Rom. 3:22b-23). I don't know about you, but I sometimes comfort myself by rejoicing in the wrongdoing of others, thinking like the pompous Pharisee, who, as he looked at the humbled and contrite publican, prayed, saying- "O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector" (Luke 18:9-14). From such blindness deliver us good and gracious Lord.
This brings up a matter that I reflect on often, the relationship between truth and love. As I noted recently in a reflection on a verse from Ephesians, while there can be no love without truth, there can be truth without love, which seems to me exactly the pitfall St. Paul urges us to avoid.