Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
St. Dominic Church, NOLA
Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts. But I shall show you a still more excellent way.” Seeking out and finding “the greatest spiritual gifts” is a good way to holiness but not the best way, so he intends to reveal to them and to us “a still more excellent way” to holiness. One question: in the pursuit of holiness, what could be better, more excellent than striving eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts? How about striving for these gift, obtaining them, and then using them for the benefit of others? That's the context of this chapter of 1st Corinthians: using our individual spiritual gifts in the Body of Christ for the benefit of the Church and the whole world. But Paul wants to make it absolutely clear to them and to us that the use of our spiritual gifts is largely worthless unless we use them along with a vital virtue, one fundamental habit that transforms an otherwise natural gift into a supernatural force. That vital virtue, that one fundamental habit is, of course, Love; that is, God Himself as He gives Himself to each one of us so that we might be perfect as He is perfect. The most excellent way to holiness is love.
Paul makes this point by setting up several contrasts. Without love, human and angelic voices are simply resounding gongs and clashing cymbals. Without love, the gift of prophecy; an understanding of the mysteries; and all the knowledge there is to know are all worthless gifts. Without love, faith enough to shift a mountain is useless; it's nothing. He writes, “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.” We gain nothing from our spiritual gifts if we fail to use them with love. We do not progress toward perfect holiness unless we call upon Love Himself to transform our work into His Work. Paul assures us, “Love never fails.” Love cannot fail. And when we pursue the greatest spiritual gifts, obtain them, and use them in love, we cannot fail. Why? Because we become love-like, Christ-like: patient, kind, humble, selfless, even-tempered, forgiving, and rejoicers in the truth. We bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things because it is strength of the whole Body that sustains us; it is God Himself who permeates our work for His glory, and fortifies our vision of holiness and our resolve to achieve perfection.
In what we might call "The Parable of the Spoiled Brats," Jesus gives us an insight into why we might fail to love as we ought, why we might be failing to grow in holiness. He compares his own generation to children in the street who refuse to play b/c no one will play by their preferred rules. Jesus and John the Baptist play by the Father's rules and the spoiled brats—the Pharisees, the scribes, many of the common people—refuse to accept the Good News of His mercy b/c they don't like the rules of the game. There is only one rule: Love. Love God, love self, love neighbor, and in doing so, you will grow in love and holiness. But love cannot be done begrudgingly, or with pre-conditions, or as a reward, or a wage, or a loan; love cannot be tit-for-tat—love me first, then I'll love you. God is the source and summit of the Love. We are freely gifted with His Love. Who would dare to ration it out like a spoiled brat and then expect His spiritual gifts to freely flow? Jesus says, “. . .wisdom is vindicated by all her children.” God's wisdom is revealed to those to play by His single, universal rule. “For we know imperfectly and we prophesy imperfectly, but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.”___________________
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