Quinquagesima Sunday —3 February AD 2008
“If I have not charity, I am nothing.”
"God is Love"
Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lent brgins this Wednesday!
The epistle this morning is arguably Saint Paul’s most
beautiful piece of writing—inspired, both in the sense of conveying what God
wished to say through him, and in the sense of a man speaking from the
convictions found at the deepest part of his soul.
You may recall that last week the very same Saint Paul told
us about all the troubles he endured in bringing Christ to the nations of the
Mediterranean, and of the close relationship he had with Almighty God, “caught
up,” as he was “to the third heaven ... to paradise ... hearing words
that no man may repeat.”
That is to say that Saint Paul had a contemplative experience of God
Himself—something like the vision of God we hope to experience in eternity,
but very likely “scaled down” to the ability of mortal man to comprehend.
From another one of the Apostles, Saint John, who was
particularly close to our Lord—and another one whose tumultuous life was made
tolerable through divine contemplation—we have the simple maxim that “God is
love.... God is love, and he who abides in love, abides in God, and God in
Today’s epistle is Saint Paul’s development of that
theme. “God is love, and if I am without love, I am without God, and I
am consequently nothing.” Saint Paul wrote in Greek and the word that he
used for “love” was “αγαπη,” (agape) which we translate with the Latin “caritas.” This αγαπη” or “caritas” is a pure and
disinterested love, such as a mother might have for a child—not the torrid,
romantic love that we often find in movies and novels. The Latin “caritas”
finds its way into our language as “charity”—but it means far more than
just giving a few dollars to the poor now and then—it is the positive love of
God, which will, in turn, cause us to love our fellow man, and perhaps then to
give to those in need.
Saint Paul is
emphatic—nothing else, beside the love of God, matters in the long-term view
of things. Indeed, everything else either vanishes or changes as we pass
into eternity. All of the knowledge on earth, all of the fasting and
discipline and donations of a lifetime, even the ability to prophesy, and even
faith “able to move mountains” will one day vanish. Paul doesn’t
make note of it here, but even the faith and hope, which he says endure together
with love, will be altered when we come face to face with God. Faith will
be based on the actual experience of God and no longer on what He has told us in
human language through the prophets and the Church. Hope will be
fulfilled, for we will be in heaven and enjoy the vision of God, and there will
be nothing more for which to hope, for we will then have everything.
will say that they have difficulty loving God for He seems so abstract to them.
They can love their wife or their children, they can have genuine affection for
the people next door, or at school, or on the job. They may even have a
fondness for someone whom they have never met; one with whom they correspond by
mail, or over the Internet, or the telephone. Their affection for the cat
or the dog is real. But God seems to remain abstract to them—they do not
realize how close they are to Him, and how much He does for them. It is
the proverbial problem of “not seeing the forest for the trees”—we see the
small details, but we fail to associate them together in the overall scheme of
things. In many cases we have become so accustomed to the loving acts of
God that we just take them for granted—as though they existed without any
How do we know that God loves us and that we ought to love
Him in return?
The most obvious bit of evidence is that we exist, together
with the universe we see around us. All of the material things around us
are perishable; we see many of them come and go. “Seventy is the
sum of our years, or eighty if we are strong.”
There is a similar fragility in all living creatures, and even in the inanimate
objects we prize so highly. Today’s shiny red car will be some day’s
rusty jalopy. That brand new dress will one day be the one in which you
don’t want to be seen anymore. The fact that such unnecessary creatures
as we are here is a demonstration of God’s love, without which we would
We can think of creation as an outflowing or overflowing of
God’s love. And, perhaps, the incredible scale of creation is another
reason we take God’s love for granted—we have great difficulty in
understanding how God can have a personal affection with so many creatures to
worry about. But our Lord was quite adamant about the concern of God with
His individual creatures. God knows how many hairs are on our heads:
Are not five sparrows sold for two
copper coins, and not one of them is forgotten before God?
the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not therefore: you are of
more value than many sparrows.
Some will mistakenly think that God has lost interest.
Many, many passages in the Gospels, like the one we read today, speak of Jesus
healing the sick, and even resurrecting the dead. “Why,” they will
ask, “does He not do the same for us today?” They fully miss the fact
that God has done far better than the few healings reported in the Gospels.
God created man with a rational soul, capable of knowing and loving God, but
also capable of learning and organizing human affairs. Through this gift
of God, man has learned to heal the sick in great numbers; to put food on
a great many tables; to clothe and shelter a multitude far larger than any
described in the Gospels. All of our modern achievements are gifts from
God—from open-heart surgery to skyscraper and the symphony orchestra.
Still others complain that God’s world contains too much
suffering, even for innocent people. They fail to realize that mankind
brings a great deal of suffering on itself. They also fail to realize that
God Himself entered human history and became one of us, taking our sins upon His
own shoulders, as he prophesied in today’s Gospel—giving His life for our
redemption in the Sacrifice of the Cross. God had a Son and a daughter
without sin, but none of His children is without suffering.
Finally, we must recall that God not only created us, but
that He created us “capable of Himself.” Saint Augustine tells us:
“The mind is the image of God, in that it is capable of Him and can be
partaker of Him.”
Mankind is unique among the animals of the earth. He is capable of
abstract thought, capable of looking down into the depths of his own soul,
capable of looking to the stars. If he looks hard enough, he finds God in
both directions, inward and outward. Being made in the “image of God”
is what makes us capable of knowing and loving. It is what enables us to
love our spouses and our children, our friends and neighbors, and even our pets.
If we say that we have difficulty in knowing and loving
God, perhaps it is because we have not been looking for Him. Perhaps this
Lent will serve us as a time of deep introspection and even contemplation like
that of Saint Paul or Saint John, who knew God in the midst of great
difficulties in this world. This is the time to look out to the starry
heavens and into the depths of our soul, so that we may embrace the love of God
which waits for us there.
“If I have not charity—if I have not love—I am