By Barb Arland-Fye
As lector at Mass last Saturday night, I had the privilege of reading my favorite Scripture: the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians (12: 31-13:13).
The “Workbook for Lectors, Gospel Readers, and Proclaimers of the Word” identifies this Scripture as a “stunning piece of religious rhetoric” that is a favorite at weddings. I chose it to be read at my wedding 25 years ago in May.
Paul’s audience for this letter some 2,000 years ago was not engaged or married couples, but rather a community bickering over charismatic gifts, the workbook says.
In his eloquent way, Paul identified the gifts that really mattered — and the greatest of these is love.
Paul wasn’t talking about romantic love, but “agape,” which designates the love of God for us and, in turn, our love for God and one another.
Father Joe Wolf, pastor of Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire, observed in his eloquent homily on Paul’s letter that it really is an examination of conscience.
A retreat master once instructed Fr. Joe to replace the word “love” in the Scripture with his own name. And thus, you have: “Joe is patient, Joe is kind …”
I didn’t have a retreat master to suggest that idea to me, but at home, while preparing to do the reading, I choked up and tears trickled down my face at the verse … “(Love) is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury …”
My husband, Steve, reading a book in the chair next to me, looked up and asked what was wrong. I have failed at love, I told him sorrowfully. “I am quick-tempered and I do brood over injury.”
Steve reassured me that I am a good person who cares deeply about others. He’s very good at “(Love) bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” And I am grateful for his love “that never fails.”
But I’m also grateful for Fr. Joe’s observation that Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is a wonderful one to reflect on in the process of self-examination.
Paul says that as children we talked, thought and reasoned as children. But as adults, we put away childish things – or so we hope. Paul’s point here is obvious; the Corinthians need to grow up. I’m making a mental note of that for myself.
Perhaps Paul’s letter should be displayed prominently in our work places, schools, electronic interstate signs and anywhere else where we need to be reminded about what’s really important is our success-obsessed society. And no one needs that reminder more than I do.
“Prophecies, knowledge, stock portfolios, lawn mowers will cease. Love will not. Other things of value will pass away. Love will not,” the lector’s workbook observes.
It doesn’t matter whether I comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge or have faith so as to move mountains, Paul says, because unless I have love — I am nothing.
But the Scripture concludes with an affirmation that sustains me: “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”