4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
January 31, 2010
Love is Never Selfish
Perhaps you will agree with me that most of the beautiful songs composed throughout the years were inspired by that many-splendored thing called love. But I believe, and I am sure you will also agree with me, that the best song ever composed about love is the second reading this Sunday: the 13th chapter St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians. It is a simple, but profound description of love. What is love, we may ask? St. Paul took pains in enumerating all those adjectives because there is no word that can fully capture the essence of love.
The Apostle St. John, being the pneumatic author that he was, goes right into the core of love: “Love is of God…for God is love” (1Jn 4:7-8). In other words, love is not just a thing, or an emotion. Love is a Person – it is the Person of God. I think St. John must have considered using the word “God” in place of “love”. So, instead of saying “Love is patient, love is kind,” we may say “God is patient, God is kind, God is not jealous”…and so on – and we will not be mistaken. And God revealed Himself to us in Jesus Christ. So love is the Person of Jesus Christ Himself.
We are followers of Jesus Christ. We ought to be like Him. That should be our only ambition as Christians. If love is the Person of Christ, then as His followers, we should also be true reflections of love. If God is love, and we are children of God, we ought to be men and women of love. Perhaps an effective way to examine how closely we imitate Christ would be to replace the word “love” with our name. For example, if my name is John Doe, can I honestly say, “John Doe is patient and kind; John Doe is not rude and quick-tempered; John Doe does not seek his own interests and does not brood over injury…”? Think about that.
In all honesty and humility, we have to admit that we do not feel worthy and comfortable applying the adjectives of love to our names. So, the big question now is: What hinders us from becoming vivid images of love? Let me share with you this anecdote:
The Eskimos have a very effective way of killing a wolf. First, the hunter coats his knife with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds layer after layer of blood until the blade is completely covered by the frozen blood. Next, he fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. In a short while, a wolf would smell the blood and finds the bait. He then licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster and harder, and very soon his tongue reaches the blade of the knife. His craving for blood is so great that he does not notice the sharp sting of the naked blade on his tongue. He does not realize that the blood he is licking is already his own blood from his wounded tongue. His appetite is so insatiable that he never stops craving for more. In the morning, the wolf is dead. (Adapted from Hot Illustrations for Youth Talks by Wayne Rice, 1994, Youth Specialties, Inc.).
This story applies to so many of us. When we become so engrossed with our selfish ambitions, vices and worldly desires, we only focus on ourselves and disregard everything and everybody else around us. Insatiable worldly appetite will make us slaves and victims of self-destruction. Worse still, selfishness also causes the destruction of others. A selfish person will never consider the welfare of others. And this is the cause of so much sufferings and troubles in the world today. A quotation says: “The world is enough for man’s need, but not for man’s greed.”
Needless to say, selfishness is the greatest obstacle that hinders us from becoming living images of love. St. Paul said, “Love is patient.” But why am I so impatient? The answer is simple: because I only think of myself, my own schedule, and my own benefit. I do not take into consideration the situation and the welfare of others. “Love is kind.” Why am I unkind and rude towards others? It is because I only care about myself, and I do not mind if I hurt or harm them. “Love is not jealous, it does not seek its own interests, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing.” But why am I jealous? Why am I eager to talk about the mistakes and sins of others? It is because I believe I am superior to the rest. So I resent the gifts and talents of others and I am glad if they fail. “Love does not brood over injury.” I cannot do that because my ego was hurt and I cannot forgive. Indeed, selfishness is the greatest enemy of love. Where there is selfishness, there is no possibility of love, and where love is absent, God is absent too.
This is what happened in the Gospel. The people of Nazareth rejected Jesus, and even attempted to kill him. The reason for this is the same: selfishness. They could not accept the truth that God plays no favorites; that this ordinary carpenter of Nazareth is now more famous and powerful than them. They could not accept the truth because it destroys their belief and feeling of superiority and it hurts their pride. Hence, they could not accept Jesus.
To really love, we need a great amount of humility and selfless disposition. A lot of unresolved conflicts in our family and among friends are caused by pride and selfishness. Our hearts remain wounded for so long because we are too proud to admit our mistakes and we refuse to reconcile. Many people are hurting due to self-inflicted wounds. In this Mass, let us pray that we may learn to truly love so that our hearts will once again discover supreme joy and lasting peace.
Fr. Mike Lagrimas
St. Teresa Church
New York, NY 10002