Love actually part 1

Keywords: love actually part 1
Description: They appeared around January 2. Red hearts. Cupids. Invading the seasonal aisles at the local retailers. Jewelry commercials cropping up with ever greater frequency on TV, telling me that I’ll know

They appeared around January 2. Red hearts. Cupids. Invading the seasonal aisles at the local retailers. Jewelry commercials cropping up with ever greater frequency on TV, telling me that I’ll know how much my significant other truly loves me by the size and cut of the diamond and the quantity of roses delivered to my office or home on February 14.

I am not, shall we say, a huge fan of the secular hype surrounding Valentine’s Day. On the one hand, I think that expressing love to people in our lives  is the most important thing we can do; I just don’t think that commercial industries get to dictate when and how this is done. On the other hand (and to save me from sounding more snarky than I am), it’s hard not to get teary when I read the Valentine’s Day card my mom sends every year… which usually arrives in early May, along with cards from St. Patrick’s Day, Thanksgiving, even Halloween. (My mom is one in a million.) But I digress.

I genuinely love telling the people important to me how much I love them, and I can think of few things better than receiving similar messages from them, regardless of the date on the calendar. I guess I just need to separate the secularity surrounding Valentine’s Day from its deeper, truer sentiment, because it really is a love-ly sentiment. And so, to help myself in this process, I have decided to reclaim this holiday in the name of real love… not the love that’s depicted in the rom-coms and in sappy ballads, and definitely not the “love” that drives reality shows like “The Bachelor(ette),” but the agape love that Jesus modeled for us in His life, His teachings, and ultimately, His Passion and Death on the Cross.

To that end, I turn to Scripture, with a Christological reflection on the famous passage from the thirteenth chapter St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:4-8a). This passage has been heard so often that it’s almost an “endangered Scripture,” in danger of being a cliché or little more than white noise to ears that have become deaf to its message. In reality, when read carefully, it is one of the most challenging passages in the New Testament. Over the next week or so, I will unpack each of Paul’s descriptors for the word “love,” examining each through vignettes from the life of Jesus in the Gospels, exploring how He embodies each quality and gently calls us to imitate His example. Hopefully, by the time February 14 rolls around, I will have regained an ordered understanding of what it is I should be celebrating on Valentine’s Day, and I will have learned from my beloved Master how to better love the people in my life—from family and close friends, to the person who cuts me off in traffic without using a turn signal while talking on a cell phone.

It’s interesting to me that, of all the words he could have chosen to begin his litany, St. Paul began with “patient.” People in society today (myself included) don’t wait for many things anymore. We have up-to-the-second information on world events through 24-hour news channels, websites, and smart phones. Through the power of the interwebs, we can access practically any song, any film, any book, any show, anytime we want. Cell phones enable us to access even most people in our lives at any given moment. We want what we want and we want it yesterday. We have become impatient. But according to Paul, love lives otherwise, and Jesus shows us how it’s done.

Without even turning to specific scriptural accounts, we can see the patience of Jesus in the very trajectory of His life. He spent thirty years in complete obscurity, living as a poor carpenter and spending His free time in prayer and study. He had to wait for His “hour” to arrive, walking through life just like any other ordinary person – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years at a time. And when the time finally arrived for Him to begin His mission, He had to work slowly. He had to use images and stories so that people would understand. He had to walk from place to place with a group of guys who, quite frankly, didn’t get Him or His message most of the time. In His patience, Jesus focuses utterly on the people around Him, gently waiting for them to grasp the concepts He ardently desires them to know. He’s like a parent, repeating things gently, over and over, to a child who isn’t listening, or who may be listening but not really paying attention, or who may even be paying attention but just doesn’t understand. Many examples from the Gospels spring to mind when I think about this patient love of Jesus, but perhaps the one of the most vivid is from John’s account of the Last Supper:

Jesus said to [Thomas], “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, then you will also know my Father.

From now on you do know him and have seen him.” Philip said to him, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me is doing his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else, believe because of the works themselves.” (Jn 14:6-11)

This passage is amazing to me – it is literally the last opportunity Jesus will have to speak intimately with His closest friends before His Passion and Death, and they still just, well, don’t quite understand who He is. Not exactly. I hear Jesus’s incredulity when He says, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me,” and yet in the next moment, I also hear His inexhaustible patience as He continues to explain who He is and what He came to accomplish.

Without a doubt, Jesus demonstrates patience beyond patience and love beyond love throughout His Passion and Death. With every crack of the whip, every thorn pressed into His brow, every thrown punch and hurled insult, Jesus endures all out of sheer love for the very ones who betray and beat and cry out for His execution: “Though harshly treated, he submitted and opened not his mouth; Like a lamb led to slaughter or a sheep silent before shearers, he did not open his mouth” (Is 53:7). In His agony, I remember the words of the Psalms: “I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry” (Ps 40:1). Even in the hour of death, Jesus continued to embody patient acceptance of the will of God, and it is this patience to which He calls us in our love for God and for one another.

“Love is patient” means dying to self; it means waiting for someone else when we would rather push on alone. It means explaining something for the thousandth time and doing so without exasperation. It means focusing on the other, desiring their success and placing their dignity before our own. Most of all, it means trusting that the grace of God is present and active in our lives, even when that active presence seems hidden.

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