[Clipart is from Celebrations Publications, for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C, January 31, 2010]
Murphy’s son Seamus was outside shooting some hoops when one of his contact lenses popped out. Seamus spent nearly a half hour looking for his missing lens with no luck. He went into the house and told his father that he had lost one of his contact lenses, and he could not find it. Murphy went outside, and in about 30 seconds he came back into the house and gave his son his missing contact lens. Seamus said, “Dad, how did you find it so fast? I was on my hands and knees for about a half hour and I could not find it.” Murphy answered, “Son, you were looking for a piece of plastic. I was looking for $150.”
Having the right sense of values is so very important in life. If our sense of values is messed up, we are likely going to fail to recognize the truly important realities of life. Like Seamus, Murphy’s son, the people of Nazareth did not recognize the real value of what they had standing in front of them. They saw Jesus as that little boy that grew up in their midst, whose mother and father, and extended relatives were still living among them. In remembering the little boy, they were keeping Jesus small, not recognizing the true value of the person standing in front of them. That is why they rejected Him. They were fine — proud in fact — of His growing celebrity status, but they could not see who He really was. They could not accept that He was the long awaited Messiah. Their messed up sense of values caused them to fail to see God, standing in their midst.
Something similar was happening in Corinth, prompting St. Paul to write his first letter to the small community of believers there. Corinth was a major trading city. It had people from all over the Roman Empire living there, so there were temples to just about every pagan god there was. There was also a lot of vices there. It was kind of the Las Vegas of the Empire: you know, what happened in Corinth was suppose to stay in Corinth. St. Paul had spent a short period of time there, establishing a small Christian community, before continuing his missionary work. Five years had passed, and the community in Corinth had written to him about some problems they were having. Among other things, one of the problems, one of the wrong values, they were struggling with was jealousy. Many had become enamored by the more charismatic gifts that others had been blessed with: the gift of tongues, the gift of healing, the gift of prophesy. The community started to think that those who had these charismatic gifts were better than those who did not.
We still have this problem today. About 10 years ago I was at Franciscan University in Steubenville, and during an energetic prayer and praise session, one of the speakers basically said that if you were not praying in tongues, which he saw as the least of the gifts, then you really were not filled with the Holy Spirit. This is WRONG! This is what the Corinthians were doing. Like St. Paul, I tried to explain to the speaker that while speaking in tongues, and all the other charismatic gifts, are good in themselves, they are not sufficient if you fail to value the greatest gift of all — LOVE.
This is why St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “I shall show you a still more excellent way.” That more excellent way is the way of love. For St. Paul, love was not merely a sentimental emotion, nor was it abstract or theoretical. For him, love was a down to earth, practical way of dealing with people, day-in and day-out.
“Love is kind.” What could be more simpler? Yet it seems as if we are living in a time when it is more and more common for us to forget to say “please” and “thank you” and “excuse me.” “Love is patient.” Wow! It seems that most of us pray that we had more patience with the people we live and work with. “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, ….” Every item in St. Paul’s list is very practical. His list also makes an excellent examination of conscience to see how well we are doing as we follow the Way. Lest the Corinthians — and we — become discouraged, St. Paul ends with the assurance that “Love never fails.”
The reason that St. Paul’s “more excellent way” is so practical is because his way is a person — namely Jesus Christ. Instead of making the foundation for his sense of values what he or others could and could not do, St. Paul knew that the foundation for his sense of value had to be his relationship with Jesus. Jesus had to be the most important value in his life. Jesus is kind. Jesus is patient. Jesus is not jealous. Jesus is not rude. Jesus never fails.
In interviewing the young men and women who are getting ready for Confirmation, many focused much of what they said on the service projects that they have been doing. Works of service and charity are important, but they are worth nothing if they are not rooted in our relationship with Jesus. We must first recognize, truly experience the love of Christ Jesus in our lives, and then we love Him with all our mind, all our strength, all our will. Only when we are in a truly loving relationship with Jesus, will we bear the good fruit, the real acts of charity that He calls us to do. When we receive the Eucharist today, pray to receive the totality of God’s love, and to love Him with the totality of our being. Then we will grow in Christ-like love. That is the most excellent way.