4th Sunday of the Year C,
Love is always ready
Strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way. If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.
And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Cor 12:31-13:13
C an you remember a time when someone was generous to you in a way that took you by surprise? You may not have done anything to deserve it and nothing was expected in return. The act of generosity itself may have been big or small, but you still remember it and are touched by it.
There is a word for that kind of generosity – not a word we often use, but a good word: gratuitousness. It is the kind of giving that is not earned by the one who receives, it is free; it imposes no obligation, and demands no pay-back. This kind of giving always inspires us.
Leslie and Carmel McCarthy are successful business people who have organized a project to build homes for impoverished families in Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world. They invested one million euro of their own money. Their goal is to build 1,000 new homes and upgrade 2,000 others in the next two years. Two hundred and sixty people from Ireland raised 4,000 euro each and travelled to Haiti for a week in November, during which they completed several homes. The building will continue during the year at a quieter pace, providing local people with employment and training them to be carpenters, brick-layers, plasterers and plumbers. Also in November, Dubliner businessman Niall Mellon, in a similar project, brought 950 volunteers to a township in South Africa and they built 200 homes. Last year the Chernobyl Children’s Project brought over a thousand children to Ireland from Belarus in the summer and at Christmas. They were welcomed into Irish homes and cared for during their stay. These are powerful examples of gratuitousness: giving without asking for anything in return.
Justice is not enough
For the past forty years our Church has stressed the need for social justice for all the people on our planet. Pope John XXIII and his successors have kept reminding all who would listen that every human being has the right to the necessities of life, and that the goods of the earth are for all. Last year Pope Benedict wrote an encyclical on the same subject but added something new. Justice, he said, is essential, but justice alone is not enough. We need gratuitousness as well. Only gratuitousness can provide for everybody. He wrote: “The earthly city is promoted not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but to an even greater and more fundamental extent by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy and communion.”
What must we do?
When the tax collectors were moved by the preaching of John the Baptist in the desert, they asked him, “What must we do?” He told them to take no more than the approved rate. To the soldiers he said: “No intimidation, no extortion; be content with your pay “
What he demanded of these two groups was justice. But when he spoke to all the people together he asked for something more: “Anyone with two tunics must share with the one who has none, and anyone with something to eat must do the same.” If you have two tunics and one of them belongs to me, and you give it back to me: that is justice. If you have two tunics and you give me one because I need it, even though I can’t pay you for it: that is gratuitousness.
A glimpse of God
When we see gratuitousness, we get a glimpse of God. That is why we are so moved by generosity that looks for nothing in return. God is like that. God gives everything to everyone, starting with life and breath. As Jesus told us, God makes the sun to shine and the rain to fall for the benefit of everyone, good and bad alike. St. John of the Cross prayed, “Lord, your glance is always first, it is a glance of love, which comes to make me exist and grow in love. Your love is a gratuitous love. It couldn’t be any other way with you.”
Gracious is the Lord, and righteous;
our God is merciful.
The Lord protects the simple;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
Return, O my soul, to your rest,
for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
I walk before the Lord in the land of the living.
Psalm 116: 6-9