Our second reading today should sound familiar, if you’ve ever been to a wedding: “Love is patient, Love is Kind....Love never fails.” I’ll return to St. Paul’s description of Christian love in a minute, but first a glance at the Old Testament and Gospel readings.
I will not leave you crushed
The Prophet Jeremiah is discouraged. His fellow Jews oppose or, worse, ignore, his preaching. I can relate to that, because I often feel like I’m preaching to an empty (or mostly-empty) church on Sundays. Do you ever get that feeling when you speak to your children or employees, that they just couldn’t care less? So Yahweh speaks encouragement to his prophet: “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” Last Saturday 50,000 of us marched down Market Street in solidarity with people still in their mothers’ wombs, but actually God knows each of us even before we are conceived. Before we even make it to the womb, God knows us and loves us. “Be not crushed,” he tells Jeremiah, “as though I would leave you crushed!” Every prophet will be rejected by the people he loves because the word of God will always be a sign of contradiction. If we are not at some point “crushed” by the words we bear we are not speaking God’s word. Yes, the prophet will be crushed, but God will not leave him crumpled in the dirt. He will raise him up, stronger, better, invincible. “They will fight against you but not prevail over you, because I am with you,” says the Lord.
Jesus too speaks the word of God in his hometown, and his neighbors are driven to fury. They drag him to the edge of the cliffs on which Nazareth is built to hurl him down headlong, but he passes through their midst. Just a digression here, if you don’t mind. In a few days forty of us from this parish will look up at those jagged 70 foot limestone cliffs. On Wednesday we leave on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to walk where the Son of God walked, to pray at the places he prayed, to see, smell, and taste the life he lived. And we will offer Mass where he died and rose. Nothing like a week in the Holy Land confirms a man’s faith in Christianity, because our faith is real, it is historical. We can spend a week in the place where eternity stepped into time. The first time I saw those horrible cliffs near Nazareth, I shuddered to think how the people Jesus grew up with would want to cast him from their pinnacles. I encourage you to make that trip before you die. So they try to kill Jesus, and they do kill Jesus eventually, in the most horrible manner possible. But He will say from the cross, “Father, forgive them. I still love them….”
Love never fails
In our second reading, St. Paul defines the love Christ pours into us from Calvary. I don’t have time to unpack even half of the riches of this passage—I leave it to your prayerful reading of this Scripture (for example, during your weekly holy hour). But this I will say about Paul’s description of Christian Love: it never fails. If you make a speech at the Rotary Club, and you don’t get all the words right, or didn’t prepare well, or are just not a good speaker—your words will not fail if you speak with love. If you are not that smart, and you don’t know how to run your business or your family or your friendships well, if you only use love, you will not fail. If you submit to God’s love in the way you speak, in the patience and kindness with which you speak and act, he will not fail you. Love will not fail you, because God does not fail.
Mother of Mercy
Pope Francis has declared a year of mercy for this reason, that it is love, not knowledge, it is fidelity, not success, it is mercy, not sacrifice, that God desires. We turn to Mary, the Mother of Mercy Incarnate, Jesus Christ. She will teach us how to speak and act with love, even in very difficult circumstances. My first pastorate was a large parish; 30 staff. I didn’t know quite how to lead such a large number—you know that if you get more than two people in a room you’ve got a fight. I tried all sorts of prayer techniques and best management practices, but eventually I just got them together every Wednesday to pray the rosary (and of course after the rosary, lunch). But it was the presence of Our Lady, and her Son, that made our parish, and parish staff, a place of love. The love of God, through her, will not fail us.