“Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way.” Corinthians 12.
Saint Paul reminds us that love is at the core of Jesus’s message as he speaks to the Christian community in Corinth, so beset by divisions. This work of the heart must be ours in proclaiming the gospel and in our service to one another and all of humanity. In effect, Paul is telling us to practice what we preach!
Of course, this is no easy task.
So much so, both the prophet Jeremiah and Jesus himself would know rebuff and rejection. We read in Saint Luke’s gospel that after hearing Jesus, the apprentice preacher, “They rose up, drove him out of the town.” Not a welcoming crowd, I would add.
Let’s consider preaching & practicing what we preach.
Several years ago, I received a plain white business letter with no forwarding address in the mail, so I did not know the sender of the message. Inside there was a reprint of an article about public speaking; how those who took a particular course would improve their speaking skills.
More than just a reprint, there was a post-it note on the piece of paper, with the handwritten comment: “Mike, try it! L.S.”
Um. “Mike, try it?” What could this cryptic correspondence mean? Who is “L.S?” Was someone in my parish or St. Mary’s College be telling me something about my need for a public speaking course?
Ok, people complain. They can’t hear me, and please speak louder! Others have written to tell me that I have an underlying political message. Their response to me: “Watch it!” Threatening, really!
“Mike, try it! L.S.”A cloud of self-doubt descended on me for days. How could a little item like this set me off? So I placed the letter on my desk, hoping that the mysterious “L.S.” would come forward.
Many months later, maybe a year later, reading an article in the Wall Street Journal, I discovered the source of my mysterious message. The correspondence from “L.S.” – was an advertisement from a highly sophisticated nationwide marketing campaign for professionals, and maybe preachers, to buy into a Dale Carnegie type-speaking program. God knows we need it!
The post-it with the name and slogan “Try it! L.S.” had been individualized for each of the thousands of recipients who were sent the same advertisement.
Psychologists tell us that it’s normal to fear flying, or the fear of surgery, or fear when giving a speech.
Luke is raising another point about the fearsome act of preaching and prophecy. Namely, the form of public speaking where you speak up for justice can get you into trouble. Here, Jesus is reflecting the core message that love fulfills religious beliefs and traditions.
In his day, Jesus was a Jew speaking from within his tradition with moral precepts that respect the sanctity of everyday life, repairing a broken world, benevolence and charity, loving of neighbor, and honor for God’s awe and holiness.
Recall, the underlying resonance of these troubled and apocalyptic writings, including Luke’s gospel, authored some 70 years after the time of Christ, was the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in the so-called “Roman War against the Jews.” Every Jew felt this peril, and thousands upon thousands of Jews died.
In effect, this newly formed band of Christians were Jews who saw in Jesus the “new temple” whose death and life would not pass away; instead, his “invisible kingdom of the heart” was found not in a building or place instead of in the moral lives and loving actions of people of faith.
So the instruction of Saint Paul to the Corinthians is an examination of conscience for the faithful. How do we practice what we preach? Let’s listen again to his spiritual and moral guidance:
“Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not jealous; it 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 thing, hopes all things, endures all things.”
In so many words, Paul says: “Mike, try it!”
Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.