Reflection for Wednesday, September 17, 2008: 24th week in Ordinary Time.
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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.||But the English word "love" is a poor translation of the Greek word that Paul uses. A better translation would be "self-giving". Listen to the soaring phrases again, but substitute "self-giving". |. . . if I have prophetic powers and understand all mysteries and knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to move mountains, but am not self-giving, I am nothing . . . Self-giving is patient and kind; self-giving is not jealous or boastful . . . Self-giving does not insist on getting its own way; it is not irritable or resentful . . . Self-giving bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things . . .|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.|In a sense today's reading is actually apt for wedding liturgies, after all. Marriage is a sacrament precisely because it images the union of Christ with the Church. That union is one of absolute self-giving. So long as married couples enter their union in a way that witnesses God's own self-giving, then their union is a sign that makes real what it signifies _ in other words, a sacrament. Self-giving gives everything. Self-giving gets us nothing. God has already given us Himself; what else could there be to get?
University Ministry, Creighton University.
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