the greatest of these is love

I was up early this morning with Ben, who didn’t sleep easily last night.I confess I ate collard greens and he didn’t like them at all. Sitting in the dark bedroom while he nursed, I flicked on my iPod to pray Lauds. Then I turned to the Mass readings for the day.

Today has some wonderful readings. Some days I read the readings and I think Ok. Well that was an exercise that I’m sure benefited me spiritually. But I don’t get it. Other days it seems every word is outlined with fire, blazing with import. I know, I know if only I had eyes, every word of scripture is a word from the mouth of God, is a manifestation of the Word; but that isn’t how life really works. Much of the time we just don’t see. So this is what burned for me in the pre-dawn quiet this morning while everyone else slept.

First, from the beginning of Jeremiah: The word of the LORD came to me thus: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you. Always one of my favorite verses. Motherhood has made this even more precious. Months of contemplating the personhood and divine calling of these little ones in the womb. Known by him before I even guessed they existed.

Then the psalm echoes and expands the idea:

You are my hope, Lord; my trust, GOD, from my youth.
On you I depend since birth; from my mother’s womb you are my strength; my hope in you never wavers.
My mouth shall proclaim your just deeds, day after day your acts of deliverance, though I cannot number them all.
God, you have taught me from my youth; to this day I proclaim your wondrous deeds.

Then the second reading convicts me through and through, a searchlight in my soul, finding all the grimy fingerprints below the light switch, the dusty corners behind the doors, the icky bits behind the toilet. The long form, not the abbreviated version we later hear at Mass. Somehow creeping up on the “Love is patient, love is kind” this way, hearing the words leading up to them, framing them and giving them context, makes me hear them in a totally different way:

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 all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It 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 wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It 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, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

I love that about the more excellent way not being the greatest gifts but simply loving. It’s encouraging. I think, I can do that. Yes, it’s very St Therese. I don’t have to do great deeds so much as master the task of loving here, humbly in my home.

Of course then he really puts it to me. St Paul doesn’t let me off the hook. Oh no. The next part, that pretty part that so often gets chosen for weddings, every word of it hits me in the gut.

Love is patient. You got me there. I fail in patience. Every. Single. Day. Usually multiple times. There is nothing like a spacey three year-old girl to try your patience. She takes. Forever. To do the simplest things. She balks. She’s stubborn. Oh yes, she’s my daughter. Add to that a whiny two-year old with another stubborn streak and a seven month old who, well, he has a knack of just needing to be held when I just need to do ten other things. Yes, I need to wrok on patience, Lord.

Love is kind. Oh and I can be unkind. Scathing remarks falling from my tongue. Lack of sympathy goes right along with lack of patience.

It 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 wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. I won’t bore you any further with my enumerations of how every one of these arrows hits the mark. Just trust me. They do. Especially that quick tempered one.

It’s funny because after we returned from Mass, I clicked over to see what Faith and Family Live’s User’s Guide to Sunday had to say about today. And I found that I’m not the only one who reads this reading in this way: “Today�s second reading is a favorite for weddings � but, following the advice of a friend of April�s, we like to use it as an examination of conscience.” It doesn’t read exactly like my list. But close enough. Sometimes God does hit you over the head with a hammer. Just to make sure I don’t blow off my early-morning insights, he underlines the text in bright pink highlighter.

But then, like a grace note, there’s this too: Love never fails. A reminder. My love may fail daily. But God, who is Love, never fails me. He is always there, always loving. Always ready not only to forgive injuries but ready to bind up my wounds, pour over them the sweet healing oil of his boundless mercy, his death-defying love.

 

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