Assistant Director, Notre Dame Center for Liturgy
Thus far, our treatment of the thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians has examined love in light of the implications for our interactions with others. We have looked to Jesus Himself for examples of how to be patient and kind; how to rise above things like jealousy, the desire for attention or approval, and the self-righteous tendency to judge rather than forgive. On this Valentine’s Day, we come to the culmination of St. Paul’s famous teaching on love and discover what truly self-giving, agape love asks of us.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.
These last two statements seem to expand our horizon farther than those that preceded them, demanding of us an even greater capacity to give of ourselves in love. But what does this look like? When it comes to agape, or self-giving love, what does it mean to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things?
Quite simply, it means the Way of the Cross. If we seek to imitate Christ in our love of others, we must realize that we will also be called upon to imitate Him in His sufferings. In His Passion and Death, Christ modeled for us the outpouring of love to the end: the ultimate self-gift. If we begin to think about what it means to bear, believe, hope, and endure all things in love, then all overly-romantic, picture-perfect, superficial notions of what it means to love another simply disappear.
In bearing all things under the weight of His Cross, Christ becomes a model for the parent who must bear the pain of difficulties with a child, or the son or daughter who must bear the loving burden of caring for an elderly parent. In believing all things by continuing to trust in God even in the depths of His agony, Christ becomes a model for the college student who struggles to maintain faith in the midst of adversity, or the weary social worker who yearns to believe that goodness still exists in the midst a fallen world. In sharing His hope for all things by assuring the gift of paradise to the good thief, Christ becomes a model of hope for the hospice nurse holding vigil at the bedside of the terminal cancer patient, as both hold fast to the promise of eternal life. And in enduring all things to the end by commending His spirit to the Father—offering His very last breath in love—Christ becomes a model for all who endure similar sufferings in mind, body, and spirit, giving them an example of courage so that they might unite their sufferings with His in an outpouring of love.
In seeking to imitate Christ’s life of self-giving love, we also open ourselves up to suffering, for there will always be the risk that our love for others will be met with rejection, hatred, pain, even death. Nevertheless, St. Paul reminds us that “love never fails.” Love has the last word. And in this, we are reminded that Christ’s love did not end in destruction and death, but in Resurrection and glory. And it is only this gift of self in love that can bring forgiveness, healing, fullness of life.