This reading is a favorite at wedding liturgies. It seems to overflow
with emotion and warm fuzzies. Rightly understood, however, it is
instead hard-edged and tough. Paul is not talking about couples
head-over-heels in romantic love. He is talking about what transforms
a group of individualists into one body – the body of Christ
– empowered to be Christ for the world. In the verses just
preceding today’s reading, Paul describes the various gifts
the members of that body have and exercise – teaching, prophecy,
healing, and others – gifts in which the Corinthians took
pride. Then he tells us that the greatest gift is none of these.
It is, instead, love.
Self-giving is how the first letter of John defines God; self-giving
is how Jesus manifested God for us; self-giving is the image of
God in which we humans are created. The Church (us, not just the
institution) is the sacrament of Christ for our world. But the Church
is Christ only to the extent that it is self-giving. That self-giving
starts with each of us.
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