Sunday, 31 January 2010
4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, Shaftesbury
1 Cor 12:31-13:13
We just heard in our second reading St Paul tell us that love is the thing that lasts. Thinking of what ‘lasts’: At the end of the day, as I’m getting ready to go to bed, I often wonder about what will last out of the work I've done that day. Often it can seem in the many little chores that can make up a day that none of them are really worthwhile that none of them are significant enough to say, "I did something WORTHY today! Today I did something that will LAST!"
There are however three things I try to remind myself: that we never know the full results of our actions so we must just do the right thing and leave the results up to God, that many of most important things in life are actually not that glamorous even though they are important, but thirdly, for most good deeds what changes a moderately good deed into an exceptionally good deed is not its exterior grandness but the LOVE with which we do it, and this is one of the ways that love “remains”, as St Paul says.
Pope Benedict, in his recent encyclical, pointed out that some people today can be dismissive of love because they confuse it with mere sentiment and emotion (c.f. Benedict XVI, Caritas in Veritate (2009), n.3) -this is one of the reasons that we need to remember that love goes with the knowledge of faith and the motivating direction of hope.
Thinking of what lasts, I want to say a word about heaven.
When the saints have tried to describe for us what heaven is like they frequently point out that the degree of glory and the degree of happiness that we will possess in heaven will be the same measure of the degree of love that we have lived on earth.
One of the symbolic descriptions of this has been to say that heaven is like a fast room full of many chalices, chalices of lots of different sizes, different sizes but with each one filled to the brim. The image of being ‘filled to the brim’ captures the notion that everyone in heaven is perfectly happy in heaven. But the image of the different sizes tells us something too: while we live on earth we are responding and co-operating (and not cooperating) with God's grace in such a way that we are forming and making ourselves, we are making ourselves more or less capable of being filled with God's love. This is like making ourselves into a smaller or bigger chalice -each chalice capable of being filled, but being filled according to how big it has made itself.
Back to love: There is one thing in particular that is the measure of our spiritual ‘size’ on earth and our corresponding spiritual size in heaven, and that measure is love: the divine charity dwelling within us, or not. Speaking more precisely, the theologians of the Church describe this in terms of the doctrine of merit: building on the merits of Jesus Christ on the cross, our degree of merit corresponds to the measure of love in our actions.
So, coming back to my end of day ponderings over what will last out of my day's activity:
the activity that I've done with love will last forever, it will be the measure of my perfection in heaven just as it has been the measure of my perfection on earth. We often feel best when we have done something that feels ‘grand’, but we SHOULD feel best when we recognise that we have done something in a more LOVING manner.
So when I take the garbage out, or when I collect the newsletters that people have yet again left scattered on the pews, the measure of love is what measures how perfect this activity is: if I do it with patient knowing that this simple activity is what God needs me to do because someone needs to do it, if I do it offering it to God is a loving and thus fragrant sacrifice to the Almighty, these are the type of things that make this same act possessed with more or less love; and these are the type of things that leave me filled with more or less love with more or less merit as a bigger or smaller chalice ready to be perfected and filled in heaven. It is the love in me that remains.