Friday, September 19, 2014

cibus sum grandium

The meaning is that Jesus' love "to the end" is what cleanses us, washes us. The gesture of washing feet expresses precisely this: it is the servant-love of Jesus that draws us out of our pride and makes us fit for God, makes us clean.
--Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Part II: Holy Week 
I am so in awe of Paul--Paul the Apostle, that is--whose beautiful meditation on love we heard at Mass only a few short days ago.
My word. We take it so often for granted. It is such a beautiful passage, so it is often quoted, so we grow used to hearing it, so the power of its oft-quoted lines glides off of us, without us being able to absorb a thing.
But if you listen, you will be amazed.
Love is patient.
Love is not boastful. 
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing,
 but rejoices with the truth.
How did he know? I wonder.
How did he write such a comprehensive list of what love is and is not? How well must you know Love to know all these attributes are true? And what a gift, that we can check ourselves against his list.
When I put my name at the beginning of the sentence, is it still true:
am I pateint?
am I not boastful?
I can barely get half-way through the passage before I am blushing, chalking up the counts against myself.
Do I rejoice not over wrongdoing, but rejoice with the truth?
Paul is pulling no punches.
This is a pretty thorough examination of self. 
If I am trying to mold myself into an image of love, am I succeeding?
But then comes the part that is certainly not about me, it is not a line against which to check myself: Love never fails.
I am one of the prophecies that will be brought to nothing, I am one of the tongues that will cease--but Love, love will never fail.
I will decrease, and love will increase.

There are so many times we deceive ourselves into thinking that the good that we do in silent, in the private recesses of our hearts, bears little concrete fruit. We are tempted to believe that good, in order to make much of a difference, has to be something splashy that Makes a Difference.
It is easy to see how the good we do can bear fruit when we see a person who feeds a hungry person or gives money to the man on the subway everyone is annoying.
It is easy to see how the good we do brings joy to others and makes the world a better place when we do concretely, tangibly good things: from little, mundane actions such as helping our neighbors with their lawnmower to giant, Mother Teresa-esque feats of goodness.
This is the sort of goodness that we expect to make a difference in the world around us.
It is altogether more mysterious how our own interior attempts at goodness have the ability to repair the world around us.
We do not think that our attempt on our own to model ourselves in the image of love will have any benefit to anyone other than ourselves.
We doubt that the celestial harmony of the spheres depends upon us.
And yet it does. 
Once, I had a friend who wrestled, very deeply, with doing the right thing.
She debated, going back and forth, mulling over the choice, holding it in her hand like a young baby bird, and wondering whether to let it go or hold it close to her heart.
She never told me what choice he made.
But she didn't need to. I remember feeling--not really feeling, no--but knowing very distinctly that she had made a choice. 
And it was the right one.
Her choice reverberated in my heart, sending small chords of goodness rippling through the music in my blood.
Creating harmony with all that was at peace within me, and sounding with harsh dissonance against that which was disordered.
Completely unknown to her, her own attempt at goodness set off a chain reaction, and I responded.
I do not understand the mystery of goodness, nor do I understand the mystic operations of love, but I do know that Love never fails.
And I am so thankful that Paul found this out so long before we did, and wrote it down, for us to discover in our time.

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