In this morning’s announcement you heard our lector welcome us to the 4th Sunday in ordinary time … that means that we are already at the end of January and next week begins the month of February… February, the month that holds the most dreaded holiday of the entire year. Some of you are nodding, you know that I am talking about, Valentine’s Day. This holiday is feared by so many of us; spouses, friends, others really any of us that are gifting challenged. You get something too extravagant and you are just trying too hard, you get something too small and you were not trying hard enough. Children are really the only ones that are off the hook. Remember in elementary school, we all made our parents these heart shaped things that were destined for that place of supreme honor, the refrigerator door. In my elementary school they made it easy, everyone in your grade had to give everyone else a simple store-bought card. Remember those boxes of 100 valentine cards? The ones with such heart felt sentiment as “be mine”, or “too cool”, or the ultimate “XOXOXO”. The great thing about giving the same thing to everyone was that it didn’t have to mean anything … or did it? The amount of time that I spent deciding who would get the “too cool” and who would get the “XOXOXO” is honestly embarrassing. Especially when you considered the fact that we all got some 50 cards and couldn’t recognize the signature on half of them.
Today’s second reading could be the perfect valentine poster. After all there is “love” all over that thing. It is probably the most frequently chosen reading for a wedding. But, is it really the perfect hallmark valentine wish? Somehow, I do not think that it translates into hallmark-eze as well as we would think. Let me try this; “If I speak in human and angelic tongue but you will not be mine, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal”. You will agree that it loses something.
The problem is that the base model is wrong. The image that the holiday is based on is flawed. The big red heart doesn’t mean anything. It looks nothing like a real heart, it doesn’t have things coming out of it on all sides. It’s not slimy or bloody or muscley. It’s perfect, and simple, and red and can sit on a white background without getting messy or become a problem. The fact is that the model is inadequate.
And, when I say that it is inadequate that is because we already have the perfect model. It is right here. It is on the wall behind the altar. It is the crucifix. While you will find a cross in almost every church, in our church you find the crucifix. Coming from the Latin cruci fixus meaning “(one) fixed to a cross”. This is the messy one, the one that has the figure of the “sacrificed” Christ. In this image you find the true model of love. Christ’s ultimate sacrifice is our model of perfect love.
Christ is patient, Christ is kind. He is not jealous, He is not pompous, He is not inflated, He is not rude … He bears all things, is all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
It is obvious that Hallmark would not sell as many cards if they were to use our model for true love on their stationary. But this is the model that we are told to imitate, we are actually told to put on Christ. In Colossians we hear, “And over all these put-on love, that is, the bond of perfection. And let the peace of Christ control your hearts”… And over all of these things we are to put-on Christ. That means that we are to put on patience, we are to put on kindness. We are to bear all things, be all things, hope all things, endure all things.
This is not valentine love, this is sacrificial love. It is not noisy gong love, or a clashing cymbal love it is patient and kind and “greatest of these” love. Sacrificial love is not really a difficult concept to comprehend, it may be difficult to commit to, but it is not difficult to understand. All that I have to do is say two simple little words and everyone in this church will immediately understand the concept. All that I have to say is “poopy diapers” and we all know what sacrificial love is all about. We have all had to deal with them. Whether it took clothes pins on the nose, or vapo rub under the nose there is no way to get away from them. And to paraphrase the gospel reading, telling the little ones “Children change thyselves” does not work. I know, I have tried.
Simply wishing or hoping that the diapers will go away does not work. We actually have to get in there, roll up our sleeves and change the diaper. In James chapter two we hear, “What use is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone says he has faith, but he has no works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that? In the same way, faith also, if it has no works, it is dead, being by itself.” Faith without love “is useless”. It may have facts and figures but it has no direction, no application. Just like love without faith has no point, it becomes the definition of selfishness. “I do this because it makes me feel good.”
Christ did not die on the cross because it made Him feel good. He did not endure the scourging at the pillar, the crowning with thorns, the walk to Calvary because he had nothing better to do. He died on the cross, and did all of these things, in spite of how it made him feel because He loves us. Each one of us, individually, uniquely, personally.
This is the definition of sacrificial love, this is not convenient love, this is not selfish love, to be honest this is scary love. It’s the kind of love that requires that we get up, that we reach out, that we lean forward, that we give in. It is the kind of love that takes an effort. And if we are ever wondering if we have what it takes to love one another with that amount of effort, all that we have to do is look to today’s first reading; “for it is I, this day, who have made you a fortified city, a pillar of iron, a wall of brass, … for I am with you to deliver you, says the LORD”. We have nothing to be afraid of, God has made sure that we have what it takes. Did you hear, we have been made a fortified city, we are all made of brass walls!
I started this homily by casting dispersions on the coming holiday. That was purely in jest, I have no fears of the coming valentine’s day. After all these years my gifting shortcomings are well known and begrudgingly accepted. I no longer use construction paper and glitter to make my gifts and have learned that “trying too hard” is always way better than not trying hard enough.
I have come to learn that when all else fails “love never fails”. “So, faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Saint Paul asked the Philippians to be “possessing the one love, united in spirit and ideals.” He said, “Never act out of rivalry or conceit; rather, let all parties think humbly of others as superior to themselves, each of you looking to others’ interest” to each other’s needs, “rather than his own.”
Now, there is a valentine sentiment that we might want to try out. What if we take the elementary school class cards, add St. Paul’s words? What if we try, may your sorrows, your worries, your trials be mine? May your hunger, your pain, your suffering be mine. And may your intentions, your hopes, your longings be mine … XOXO!”
1 Corinthians 12:31 – 13:13
Brothers and sisters:
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, it 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.
January 30, 2022
January 30, 2022