Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts….If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.” 1 Corinthians 12:31-13.
Let us focus for a moment on this second reading from Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians, and perhaps it is the most quoted passage from Paul in the New Testament. It’s often referred to as the “Hymn to Love,” with memorable lines such as “Love is patient, kind, not jealous, not pompous… It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” This remains a favorite bible passage for me and so many other, and we hear it often at weddings, funerals and important occasions. At wedding rehearsals, I will go over this passage very carefully with the reader, in the hope that its rendering on the day of the ceremony will add to the intimacy of the ceremony.
You may recall back in September of 1997, the funeral of Princess Diana, where this passage was the centerpiece of the liturgical celebration. Then, a boyish looking Prime Minister, Tony Blair walked into the pulpit of Westminster Abby and read this passage with such conviction and great eloquence. And this was just seconds before Elton John sang his tender song of “Candle in the Wind.”
Now for me, Saint Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians was the show stopper moment, less so Elton John’s song. A reminder of how powerful God’s word and how responsible we must be in reading with sound voice, pace, timber and appropriate emphasis.
At the time, it got me to thinking that reading the word of God is a more difficult and responsible task than even preaching. Where preaching, the priest or deacon must be true to one’s own voice, and this difficult enough. While reading the “Word of God,” requires an even greater diligence, solid preparation, and in my opinion, trying to best interpret God’s word for a congregation. In the circumstance of Tony Blair’s reading of Corinthians, his was an unfolding of scripture for a world wide audience watching on global television.
Here is the Youtube link to the Tony Blair’s rendering of the reading of Corinthians.
So reading scripture or preaching the gospel has its consequences, and in Luke’s gospel which is a continuation of the reading from last Sunday, we find out that Jesus’s bold statement “Today, the Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing” did not go down well in his hometown of Nazareth, and in fact, we’re told his neighbors at the synagogue “rose up, and drove him out of town.” Well, maybe we have to blame it on his youth, or know that “a prophet does not gain acceptance in his native place.”
All three readings today tell us to stand strong in adversity, and despite rejection or loss or conflict, love itself endures all these human catastrophes. The prophet Jeremiah reminds us of God’s word: “For it is I this day who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, against the whole land….for I am with you to deliver you.”
So what do we do for love and for the sake of the gospel? Where do we meet this kind of love in our own lives?
I’ve seen this kind of love in the lives of parents, and in those intense medical emergencies where the lives of children are at stake and where the lives of people we deeply love are held in suspension. So we call upon God’s grace, at these moments.
Most of us want to hand on to our young people, not only a good and wholesome life, but a plan of life where the acts of faith, hope and love will come to heal and bring balance to the challenging moments that are inevitable in life.
In mentioning Princess Diana, I reminded of how her sons — carry on her social and political work, in an attempt to give value to others despite the most complicated aspects of living in the limelight of celebrity. Our own political leaders often miss this vital aspect of moral and generative authority. And for us, the greatest legacy of parents and their children, is to maintain these bonds of love from generation to generation.
Again, what do we do for love? Sometime it’s heroic, an act of courage and love.
Three weeks ago, I went to Sunday Mass at Saint Michael’s Church in Munich, Germany. It’s the parish church of Jesuit Father, the Blessed Rupert Mayer. He was a chaplain in Germany army in World War I, where he was severely injured and won the Iron Cross for valor. His public preaching during the 1930’s against the Nazis placed him in “protective custody” at Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp, until the end of the war in 1945, when he died at the age of 69.
On this recent trip of mine, the very next day, my nephew Phil and I went, on a very snowy day, to Dachau Concentration Camp outside of Munich, where I learned that 2,700 priest and ministers were imprisoned during forced labor, and where many died.
Later in our trip, in Amsterdam, we watched as thousands of tourists stood in line to visit to the home of Anne Frank. So this young girl, and Father Rupert Mayer were people whose personal acts of courage and yes, sacrifice, tell us about “heroic love.”
Blessed Rupert Mayer prayed:
“Because you [O Lord] will it, it is best. Because you will it, we are blest. Till in your hands our hearts find rest.”