St. Paul is “waxing eloquent” today in what may be his most famous and frequently quoted text of all: 1 COR 12:31-13:13. It is heard it so often at weddings that I sometimes wonder if we don’t just get as far as “Love is patient, love is kind…” and then let the words slide across our consciousness without really penetrating too deeply. Perhaps that’s too harsh a judgment on such an important moment, but I have often heard that “what is seldom is wonderful” and sometimes I know that I perk up and listen better to unfamiliar readings.
On this ordinary Wednesday morning in the middle of September, when all is quiet around me and nothing is stirring outside – even the birds are silent! – I hear Paul once again and am deeply touched by each phrase. May it be so with you also.
Brothers and sisters: Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way. 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 faith so as to move mountains, but I do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over to be burned but do not have love, I gain nothing.
(Before you go on reading, stop for awhile and consider how monumental are those propositions…)
Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, love 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 wrong-doing but rejoices in the truth. Love 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 and love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.