If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
The first part of the Epistle passage that comprises the third Epistle from the sacrament of Holy Unction is about the diversity of gifts. Each of us is created by God in His image. However, each of us is unique, blessed with unique gifts and talents. We are each called by God to fulfill a role in the body of society, as well as the body of the Church. We each have a way that we can further the message of the Gospel.
The next part of the passage is the one thing that is supposed to unify us, which is love. Saint Paul tells us that if we “speak in the tongues of man and of angels, but have not love,” we are like “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” (I Corinthians 13:1) In other words, if we have an important role in society where we speak eloquently, and are heard by many, if we don’t have love, then in the eyes of God, we are just background noise.
If we “have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and all knowledge” but lack love, we are nothing. (13:2) If we have a great amount of knowledge, or if we do something amazing like cure cancer, but we lack love, what we have done amounts to nothing. If we have many degrees behind our name, but are a hateful, dishonest, and deceitful person, we may fare well in the eyes of society, but we won’t be counted as anything in the eyes of God. As the saying goes, we can fool some of the people some of the time but we can’t fool God at any time.
If we “have all faith so as to move mountains, but have not love” (13:2) we are nothing. Even people who appear to be faithful people, if they lack love, their faith amounts to nothing. I’ll speak only for myself here—there have been instances when I have gone to church with a hateful heart. I’m angry at someone. I even have done a moving Liturgy or given an effective sermon in this state. While the people in the congregation told me what a beautiful service it was or what a great sermon it was, I felt empty, because I knew that my heart was not filled with love that day. I don’t know if others have ever experienced this, but I have. And it’s not a good feeling. On the contrary, when we offer something with love, even when it is not our best, it is as if God perfects our effort made with love, so that even when we are not at our best, we are still able to serve effectively and feel full. If we try to have faith without love, we will fail.
If we “give away all that” we have but don’t have love, we gain nothing. (13:3) I can give away things I don’t need or am not using anyway, and I can get a tax deduction for them. However, is that generosity? Or is it giving something away versus throwing something away? It is certainly possible to give things away and do so thinking about what we’ll get in return rather than what we are giving. The classic example that we continue to do in the Church is give money in exchange for having our name placed somewhere. This is not giving. It is exchanging. It’s giving something in exchange for recognition. Love does not necessarily factor in the exchange. That doesn’t mean that these kinds of exchanges don’t involve generous gifts or feelings of love. Many, maybe most, certainly do. It is, however, possible to exchange money for recognition and not have love. And when something is exchanged in this fashion, it means nothing in the eyes of God.
Love is not about what we know, or what we can do, or what we have, or who recognizes us for what we have and what we’ve done. Love is about being patient and kind, even to those who don’t deserve it. It’s about people being patient and kind to us, even when we don’t deserve it. Love is not about being arrogant or rude, but about being humble and polite. Love is not about forcing things to happen, or forcing people to be things they don’t want to be or do things they don’t want to do. Love is not about manipulation, or shaming, or bullying, or gossiping. Love is not about rejoicing in what is wrong but celebrating what is right. Love does not see the glass half empty, but rather sees it as overflowing with possibilities.
Love is something we all need. Love is something we all have the ability to give. While there is a diversity of gifts and talents in our society, love is what unifies us. Because we all need it and we all have the capacity to give it. Not everyone can work out complex math problems, or perform brain surgery. But everyone can love, everyone can be patient, everyone can be kind. That is why love is the greatest of the gifts God gives. Because what good is anything if there isn’t love in it?! It is the greatest of gifts because everyone has it.
The greatest gift is love—and no matter what gifts you have or don’t have, everyone has the ability to give and receive love. In seeking healing of soul and body, we each need some healing when it comes to love. We each need some healing when it comes to patience, to kindness, to humility, to politeness, and to optimism. Because no matter who we are, there isn’t a year (or a month, or maybe even a day) that doesn’t go by when we are impatient, or unkind, or prideful, or rude, or pessimistic.
We might be in peak physical condition. We might be an elite athlete. We may have no physical problems that are in need of healing. We are not united in this, however. We know that we have a diversity of gifts, so we are not united in this either. Where we are united is that we all have the gift of being able to give and receive love. And we are united in that none of us does this perfectly. Therefore, we are all in need of healing when it comes to learning to love better, both to give love and to receive love. We are all in need of healing from all the things that go along with the love that we don’t do well all the time—being patient, kind, humble, polite, and optimistic.
The greatest of all the gifts is love. The greatest of all healings is the wounded heart that needs healing from when it is not loved, and healing for the times it doesn’t love as it should. We all have wounded hearts. They are all in need of healing. We all have beautiful hearts that are capable of healing the wounded hearts of others through love.
You, Lord, Who loves mankind, and Who through Your Apostles mercifully gave us a caring command to anoint in holiness Your ailing servants, we pray that through their intercessions, You bestow Your seal of mercy on us all. (1st Ode)
We work every day to perfect what we do. We try to be better at whatever role we play. Since we are all called to love, let’s learn to love better each day!