” Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7)
(Note: All of the Lectionary (Scripture readings for the week) come from the website of the Byzantine Catholic Church of America. If you are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, or other denomination that follows a Lectionary, please refer to your respective Diocese/Eparchy/Church bulletin for the readings of the week)
Here are the readings for the fifth week of Lent/The Great Fast:
|Fifth Sunday of Great Lent: Saint Mary of Egypt
(Second Sunday before Pascha / Easter)
|Sixth Week of Great Lent|
Genesis 43:26-31; 45:1-16
Over the past four weeks, I’ve been doing a series on what in the West is called “Lent” and in the East (primarily those churches from the Middle East and Eastern Europe) is called the “Great Fast” what makes this season special and of importance, and how Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelicals, Non-Denominationals, and Protestants can walk through the forty days employing what I euphemistically call the “simple gifts” (Prayer, Contrition (Penance), Fellowship, and Faith), which will help us on our Lenten journey and beyond. I finished with the last of the gifts, ‘Faith”, last week. I now want to tie all four gifts together with what drives them all: Love.
First though, like I’m always wont to do, I’d like to define what I mean by the term, “love” before I move on. While talking about Fellowship, I said that the term was bandied about and misrepresented. In a much more radical way, the word love has been much maligned and mangled both within and outside the Christian faith.
Today, love is seen as having many forms and shapes, some of which are distorted and contorted, and certainly unhealthy. To the modern mind, love has been reduced to mere feelings or a primal urge that needs to be satisfied and as “victimless”. Something like a dressed-up animal in nice clothes. Nice and easy. In many ways, the natural argument of “this is the way we’re made” is an echo of the sixties mantra we’ve been dealing with ever since. “If it feels good, do it!” Right?
This is not the Christian definition of love. The Christian definition of love is neither a feeling nor an uncontrollable urge. If this definition were not true, love is marginalized to a mere instrument and turns everything around it to a self-centered idolatry where I “fulfill” my own personal desire “to scratch that itch”. I reduce myself to being an object A where love, the instrument, is a utilitarian act upon the object B. But what is really being satisfied is my own fulfillment. This looks much like a snake eating its own tail. As a Catholic, I’ve been taught the concept of intrinsic worth, that is, all of humanity, from the cradle to the grave has intrinsic value, and that no one thing that makes me can be extracted from all the other things and valued over everything else that makes me what I am, especially when the extraction is from the Creator Himself (1 Corinthians 6:19). Love therefore, is not an instrument.
Nor is It mere feelings, a switch to be turned on and off when we feel like loving someone. Love is something that seeks our own good. Conversely, love is not always the “warm fuzzy” feeling we have with someone (think of the family member who is literally stealing out of house and home in order to support a drug habit). Love is grounded in the notion of giving to our totality, intrinsic value, and created being. This requires a higher order Who properly and perfectly orders this intrinsic value (we as humans are a poor barometer).
Love, by the world’s standard, is not much of a standard. Love is decidedly not an
Love is a Person.
This is why I balk at lyrics like the chorus of Tina Turner’s “What’s Love Got To Do With It” (from which I took as the title of this article):
“What’s love got to do, got to do with it
What’s love but a second-hand emotion”
If love described above is really the case, then it is nothing more than a psychological commodity. In fact, the last line of the chorus echoes this, “Who needs a heart when a heart can be broken”. It is devalued at the first whiff of disappointment and discontent. If love is merely “second-hand(ed): emphasis mine)”, then the scales of worth upon either person has already undergone a depreciation, like all of our new cars when they drive away from the dealership.
In these cases, the value we give to others under the auspices of love is nothing more than our own sinful measuring stick we evaluate when we cannot get ultimate satisfaction (what is the value of exchange and how much investment in the other should I put in before I start seeing dividends? When should I pull out and invest elsewhere?).
Love therefore is not a thing, it’s a Person.
God places a much higher value on us, even while our sin measures the scales. Don’t believe me? In both the Old and New Testaments, there is a connection between the temple and our bodies (Psalm 90:1, 1 Corinthians 3:16). The value He gives us has a worth that is as gentle as the Father in His care of the birds and sees us as the lilies and the rich royal robes of the great King Solomon (Matthew 6:26-30: A shameless plug; listen to the great song “Jehovah” by Amy Grant on this verse).
And if the world’s definition of love is a correct one, then Christianity has a very thin claim indeed, for we believe this God, this One God, as expressed in the Shema, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4), has a Trinity of love, found in the Three-Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), for love is never isolated to itself, but needs to reach out to the other solely for the purpose of benefiting and blessing the other. God’s love is perfect in His nature in all senses, logical, rational, omnipotent, omnipresent, and all-loving) because He is all of these. In the Second Person of the Trinity, Jesus shows how love is never acted in isolation (John 15:13) and this concept is exemplified par excellence in His Passion.
To the world at large this is utter nonsense. Imagine the CEO or founder of a company sacrificing everything he or she has in riches (or anything else, say, life) to save that company. “Failures” are acceptable consequences of business. In fact, you can have a few of them and come out on top. But what business model takes stalk of centuries of punctuated and slower growth, even missteps and for all that time and still say:
“He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom, our righteousness and sanctification and redemption; therefore, as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast of the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1: 30-31)?
I’m not saying here that Christianity is a failure. But in a world where in love instant gratification is expected on all sides, this “boast” seems lopsided. But looking at the model above, I have to ask of what value is it of the CEO vs. janitor vs. the secretary. Who is the one more worth the risk of sacrifice? God as love wants not only to restructure, but to redeem. More to the point, what CEO would suffer humiliation, rejection, loss, and a tortuous and ignoble death for the sake of those under his or her care?
Can you think of anyone? I certainly cannot. And to sacrifice to the point of death? Never! The owner of a business is always more valuable than the sum total of his or her investment.
But Jesus, the Second Person of the Trinity, died in His Passion.
I agree with St. Paul when he says:
“Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ” (Philippians 3:8)
To lose is to gain. To “lose” oneself in love is the highest virtue in Christianity. And Jesus, Love Himself, gave His all so that we might receive love.
So to the thesis that love is an emotion, and a second handed one at that, I say, sorry, no.
Love is a Person Who wants to share that extravagantly during this Lenten/Great Fast season and beyond.
Next week, I will continue the subject of Love with how the four gifts I’ve mentioned before is caught up in this idea of love and how we as Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelicals, and Protestants can carry these “simple gifts” to the Love of our lives riigt up to Holy Week.
May God bless you all this week.
P.S. Sorry for being one day late again.