This cherished homily on love
--most often heard at weddings--
is likely an addition
to Saint Paul's magnificent letter
to the church at Corinth.

Not an awkward addition.
But a graceful one, inserted with good reason and logic.
An addition in keeping
with the contours of the Corinthian community,
as well as Saint Paul's own life story.

These flowing, intricately constructed, poetic verses
are a biographical sketch on becoming
in that Saint Paul
did not always know
or practice
love that is patient,
and kind;
love that is not envious or boastful or arrogant;
or rude.

His earlier life
--what I prefer to call an immature, rather than childlike life--
insisted on its own way.
Tremendously violent.
Saint Paul persecuted any and all Christian Jews
with whom he came in contact.

His was a demeanor
beyond irritable,
filled with terrible resentment.

Zealous for the law,
he searched after wrongdoing.
Rejoiced in finding it.
And attacked wrongdoers with unrelenting vengeance,
crushing wrongdoing and wrongdoers
before truth had any chance to emerge.

Saint Paul
was convinced his
was a way that
bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things.

Except, of course,
his ways
did not bear,
believe,
or hope,
in any of God's people.

Saint Paul knew what was right.
Knew righteousness.
Knew how a community was to function,
function according to Pharisaic standards.

Knew how to be
--and was,
by his own birth and strict living--
right before God.

And yet, his self-righteous life was
as ugly as a noisy gong,
as harsh and unpleasing as a clanging cymbal.

He had it all,
but in the final analysis
of his earlier, immature, dimly-seeing self,
had nothing.

The same could be said of the church at Corinth.
Wonderfully diverse.
Faithfully observant.
Collaborating with anyone and everyone
sharing common claim to a generous, all-encompassing God.
And yet, insensitive and indifferent to one
another.

It was worse in Jesus' home synagogue.
The community praised him for being one of their own.
But they could not abide
those with whom he associated.
Could not tolerate the expanse of his pastoral care.
And so, after praising him,
quickly turned to assassinate him.

So, too, Jeremiah's contemporaries.
Fellow prophets said to love the Lord.
"Peace, peace,"
they'd proclaim in a time of uncertainty. (6:14)
And yet, proclaim it for all the wrong reasons.
Bringing false comfort and illusory hope.
Acting shamefully, but being not ashamed.
From prophet to priest, everyone dealing falsely,
greedy for unjust gain.

Insensitive.
Indifferent.
Intolerant.
Insolent.
Seeking unjust gain.

Sounds familiar.
It is not simply that such fault,
and depravity,
and sin
is present in our own day and age.

It is what we've done
with an unprecedented awareness of
--what the prayer at the conclusion of our liturgy calls--
the waste of our wraths and sorrows.

We are
more aware of what plagues and haunts us
more aware of our individual and collective shortcomings,
than any previous generation.

Our global village brings us in contact
with the plight of our sisters and brothers
on these and other shores
in graphic, vivid, unceasing detail.

We can pinpoint problems more precisely than ever.
Visit with the makers of the problems.
Quickly and regularly.
From China to the Middle East.
Deep in South and Central America.
And into the communities,
state houses
and election rallies
of this land.

We know we are willfully sinking our very common home.
Can feel its increasing and unsustainable warmth
on our own street corners.

And yet, our response is denial.
One-upmanship.
Harsh words.

We know what is right, and honorable, and just.
Or at least we used to.

But instead turn fellow citizens into enemies.
Dismiss perspectives not our own.
Trumpet divisive ways.

We pit people against people.
Race against race.
Religion against religion.
Community against community.

We might not be certain of someone else's righteousness,
but we sure are certain of our own.

But here's the thing.
The author of this homily on love tells us
being right without having love for one another
is not being right at all.

Because, for love to be love
requires another.

If we have any chance a relating to one another, rightly.
And building community.
And city.
And nation.
And church.
We need this love.

The love of God
shown to all people
here at this table
with Jesus,
who on the night in which he was betrayed
took bread
and gave it to each of them--
including the one who would betray him.

Here, at the foot of the cross
where Jesus turns to the thief
and says, "today you will be with me in paradise."

Here, in the midst of his home synagogue,
insisting God's love abounds for all people--
even those we struggle to love.

This cherished homily on love--
love that is patient, kind,
never envious or boastful or arrogant,
or rude;
love that bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things--
may not be originally Saint Paul's.
But this notion that if we do all things in life,
and do not have love,
is Saint Paul's own view.
For it is God's view.
At the table.
On the cross.
To the end.

God's will for us and for all humanity,
is that this love be added to our very lives.

When we cannot find patience.
Turn to this table.

When we cannot find kindness.
Stretch out our hands.

When we find ourselves boastful, arrogant, envious.
Kneel at the foot of the cross.

And God, by the power of the Holy Spirit,
will bring forth this sort of love
in you,
in each and every single one of us.

And in us, together, as a community.

No wonder the table, the eucharistic feast
is the major focus of Saint Paul's letter to the church at Corinth.

The faithful there
thought they were celebrating the eucharist.
But they argued over who was better than the other.
More spiritually gifted than the other.
When they gathered at table, they didn't wait for others.
Some got drunk.
Others ate excessively.
To the point where there was nothing left
for the working poor
who came to the feast only after finishing their jobs.

Wait for one another.
Show love for one another.
Saint Paul urged them.

In this way at the table,
patience and kindness are not
simply added to the life of the community at Corinth.
But all are formed as the body of Christ.

No surprise there.
"Before I formed you in the womb," God says,
"I knew you."
Before community is formed.
I knew it would be a community.
A new community.
The church.
Which is the body of Christ.

In these divisive times
-- unprecedented in the sense that we are
so fully aware of the divisiveness itself --
God is calling us and forming us to be such a body today.
Calling us and forming us to be
a living, prophetic witness to love.

In the city.
Withing religious institutions.
Among the nations.

To see one another more clearly.
To interact with one another more generously.
To act more maturely than ever before.

It is a high calling.
And a challenging one.
Love such as this is never easy.
But it always succeeds
because it is, we believe, the greatest gift of all.

Jared R. Stahler
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York

FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY
Sunday, February 31, 2016 - Morning Masses

Jeremiah 1:4-10
Psalm 71:1-6
1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Saint Luke 4:21-30