Father Donald Senior, CP

Jan. 30: Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Wednesday, January 19, 2022

Do you love me?

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19; Ps 71:1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 15-17; 1 Cor 12:31—13:13; Lk 4:21-30

The writings of Paul the Apostle play an oversize role in the readings for this Sunday. Paul himself in his Letter to the Galatians cites the quotation from the prophet Jeremiah found in our first reading. 

The Lord tells the reluctant prophet, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you.” 

In reflecting on his own unlikely vocation that transformed him from being a persecutor of the church to one of its most ardent apostles and the driving force of the mission to the Gentiles, Paul realizes that God was shaping his life before he was even conceived. That sense of purpose and confidence in God’s enduring love would carry Paul through a lot of difficulties and setbacks.

The second reading today may be the most famous passage from the ensemble of Paul’s letters. The “hymn to charity” found in the 13th chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians has been read at countless weddings and anniversaries, and rightly so. This portrait of authentic love comes as the highpoint of a series of images of the church Paul cites in this portion of the letter. 

The trigger for Paul’s reflections was a problem reported to him about the way the Corinthians were celebrating the Lord’s Supper or Eucharist. When the Corinthians came together for the Eucharist, their celebration included a meal together (as some parishes do on occasion). The problem, though, was that some of the wealthier members of the community brought lavish food for themselves, while some of the poor members had little or nothing to eat and were embarrassed.

This lack of concern and respect angered Paul and he reminded the community that the Lord’s Supper commemorates the sacrificial death of Jesus, that ultimate act of love for them and for the world. To turn this feast of love and unity into an occasion for humiliation and division was fundamentally wrong.

From this sharp reprimand, Paul turns to a series of images or metaphors meant to remind the Corinthians what the church was meant to be: a community with many gifts animated by one Spirit (1 Cor 12:1-11); a community of many members united in one Body of Christ (last Sunday’s reading, 1 Cor 12:12-31), and, finally, what Paul names “the more excellent way,” his exquisite description of authentic love (1 Cor 13:1-13).

Love that is patient, kind, not jealous, not pompous, not inflated, not rude, not seeking its own interests, not quick tempered, not brooding over injury, not rejoicing over wrongdoing but in the truth; love that bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

As Pope Francis noted in “Amoris Laetitia,” his beautiful reflection “On Love in the Family,” the qualities Paul uses to describe authentic love reveal that this is not a sentimental notion of love that can decorate a valentine card, but love lived out in the everyday realities of married and family life. It is a love that knows setbacks and needs the balm of forgiveness. It is a love that requires perseverance and is nourished by prayer and God’s grace.

Others have noted how Paul’s word portrait of love is echoed in the beloved song of the elderly couple in “Fiddler on the Roof,” when Golde responds to Tevye’s question:

“Do I love you? For 25 years I’ve washed your clothes / Cooked your meals, cleaned your house / Given you children, milked the cow. / Do I love him? / For 25 years I’ve lived with him /  Fought him, starved with him. / Twenty-five years my bed is his. / If that’s not love, what is?”

Having extracted his wife’s concession that she does in fact love him, Tevye notes, “It doesn’t change a thing but even so after 25 years it’s nice to know.” 

 It is more than nice to know that God’s word today points to the heart of the matter for Christian life and embraces our fragile attempts to love each other. Paul concludes his reflection with these immortal words: “So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”



  • scripture