27 January 2007

Love is cruel, possessive, & easily angered

4th Sunday OT: Jer 1.4-5, 17-19; 1 Cor 12.31-13.13; and Luke 4.21-30
Fr. Philip N. Powell, OP
St. Paul Hospital
and Church of the Incarnation


A Reading from the Unholy Gospel of St. Narcissus…

Praise be to me and me alone!

My wretched Slaves and convenient Tools, you have heard that love is patient and kind, forgiving and humble; that those who love seek the good for the Other and rejoice in the truth. You have heard many things about the world that will not serve you well. And among these is the foolish sentiment that love is anything but Selfishness writ large across the Ego—a passion that will not be saddled and ridden like a domesticated tiger but loosely bridled and allowed its furious run. Love is impatient for love in return. Love is cruel because it must end. Love cannot be generous or polite. It is a passion, obsessive, possessive, and rude. Love is a grandiose tale, a violent power, a torrent of abusive lies aimed at your tender heart. Love has a temper and most certainly nurses hurt. Love will bear nothing, believe nothing, hope nothing, and endure even less. Love fails. My face in a gilded mirror tells the truth of love: distrust, despair, delusion. Love is vengeance on the weak for being vulnerable to need. Need nothing, want nothing. Be strong! And heal yourself. Enlighten yourself. Give yourself peace. Save yourself. Build idols to your silenced need and keep control. Finally, Slaves and Tools, remember and act: love is a desperate ruse, a way to see you bowed. If you must love, love my god…love Me.

This is the Gospel of St. Narcissus!

If I wanted to preach an unholy homily on the vices of love, I couldn’t do much better than to proclaim this gospel of St Narcissus and point out to you that, though we would deny the truth of this passage if pressed, most of us have experienced love as our impious saint has described it. Hurt. Loss. Aggravation. Passion given but not returned in kind. There is often a disordered feel to the way we love, a shaky balance to the way we will the good for the other. And why? When we love, why do we sometimes sense the presence of our unholy evangelist and his nasty gospel of ego-bloated cynicism? Paul is clear: love is the greatest spiritual gift. Love is a gift. A passion with which we are graced. Think of a green tea bag releasing its brew into a cup of hot water. God diffuses His love through us, infusing us with the best routine, the most excellent exercise of doing the good for everyone around us—the virtue of charity.

In an act of astonishing charity, Jesus stands in the synagogue, reads the messianic prophecy from Isaiah, and tells those listening that he is the Messiah of Isaiah’s prophet vision. They are amazed at his graciousness, at his generosity in revealing who he is. But they quickly turn skeptical when they realize that Jesus is a local-boy-made-prophet. His credibility teeters on the edge of the crowd’s fickle attention as Jesus attacks before he can be attacked. Essentially, he says, “Now I bet you’re gonna want me to do some miracle for you to prove who I am. Prophets are never accepted in their own hometowns.” He cites Elijah in Sidon and Elisha in Israel as prophets who were sent to lands and peoples other than their own to perform miraculous healings. Prophets wander, yes; but they wander at God’s command, His initiative—not their own! In effect, Jesus is refusing to prove to them through miracles that he is who he says he is. He is, therefore, a blasphemer and a rebel. The crowd pushes him to cliff to send him to his death. But Jesus safely passes through them and leaves Nazareth never to return.

Consistent with Jesus’ reluctance to prove anything with supernatural performances, he instead calls on those who hear his words to listen carefully to that spot, that space, that empty room in their souls where he would dwell, to listen carefully to their God-gifted desire for a divine life, to their God-gifted longing for healing, to their God-gifted need for rescue…to listen to his word, and let his Word call them to him. It is Love Himself to calls to their (and to our!) emptiness, our desolation, our grief, and frustration. No miracle can prove the satisfaction one feels at having been made clean, washed pure. No miracle will confirm or deny the electric truth of having been touched by the creating and re-creating Word of the Father—to see and hear and feel and smell the undiluted passion of our God for His creation, to taste His body and blood and know that Love became one of us, died as one of us, rose from his grave for us; and now, with wholly perfected charity, he sits in judgment on our obedience and on our yet to be quenched thirst for eternal joy.

Love judges you…so, be found at the time of judgment loving, rejoicing, believing, hoping, enduring. Love never fails us and we cannot fail in Love.

But we do fail without Love. Paul says that we are just noisy gongs without love, meaningless racket. That without love we gain nothing from our poverty and willing surrender. And the scariest of all—even with faith enough to shift mountains, we ARE nothing without love. Gifts of tongues, wisdom, knowledge, prophecy, all these gifts will cease; they are incomplete, partial-- “when the perfect comes the partial will pass away.” Like a racing wind, what we do and say and build and write without love will pass into the heated desert and evaporate. Faith, hope, and love will remain “but the greatest of these is love.”

Do you hear the gospel of Christ or the gospel of St. Narcissus? Which do you follow? Is your life in the faith joyful? Does being a follower of Jesus make you happy? Do you feel compelled to serve others? Can you release fear and anxiety and throw yourself on the promises of God? Are you angry, afraid, impatient, cruel, rude? Do you take your spiritual lessons from day-time TV and practice the saccharine self-help arts? Are you a spiritual athlete running to holiness under your own power, bypassing the weaker brethren and waving with self-sufficient pride as you pass? Do you believe that you invent your truth? Your right and wrong? Do you gamble against hope? Look for evidence to believe? Endure b/c failure is socially embarrassing? When your priest preaches on love, do you think he’s weak or liberal or mushy theologically? Do you think he ought to spend more time telling those sinners over there to Stop It! But Father, there are politicians, bishops, theologians, Catholic professors who need to be called out for the scandals they’re causing! No doubt. Can they look to you for a good example of how to love themselves back toward holiness and truth? Or will they learn from you, from me how to be quick-tempered, brooding, rude, and unloving?

If you know everything there is to know; if you ooze wisdom from your skin; if you prophesy in the Holy Spirit with 100% accuracy; if you sell everything, give the money to the poor, and surrender completely to God, running around butt-naked and broke; if you do all this and you do not love—you have gained nothing b/c you are nothing.

To be loved by God is life; to love b/c He loved us first is living. And so, preach this gospel: our God never fails—bear all things with Him, believe all things in Him, hope for all things from Him, and…endure, endure, endure. God never fails. God is Love. Love never fails.


  1. Father Powell, I read words like this and I realize how far I have to go. Thank you.

  2. Fr. Philip, I have two comments for you. Not that I could really add anything substantial to your homily, but when you finished the reading from St. Narcissus it made me think of a passage from C.S. Lewis:

    "To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one... Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket--safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, p.169.

    Secondly, I was quite moved by your comment about the politicians and priest. For I always seem to be one of those people who are always calling out for those "evil doers" (jk) to be called out and silenced. But, I don't think that I would really want them using me as an example of Christian Love. Thanks for preaching the Word.

  3. Anonymous1:28 PM

    Thank you for your homilys! This is the first homily I heard from you and it blew me away! I would have to say that you have the best homilys of any priest I've ever heard! They help me out alot and everytime I hear them I'm like "Wow!...(Then there's the silence in which I reflect on it)". It's priests like you that give me motivation to become a priest! Thank you and God Bless!