Love ought to be pervade all that we do. Scripture makes this clear enough at every turn; there’s no way to get around Christ’s commandment to love:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love. In this way the love of God was revealed to us: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might have life through him. In this is love: not that we have loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as expiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also must love one another. No one has ever seen God. Yet, if we love one another, God remains in us, and his love is brought to perfection in us. This is how we know that we remain in him and he in us, that he has given us of his Spirit. (1 John 4:7-13)
And yet, just the other day, as I was reading through my Lenten reflection book, I was truly struck by St. Paul’s words in his First Letter to the Corinthians:
If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal. And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:1-7)
Most of us know these words; we have heard time and time again that love is patient, kind, and so forth. What struck me, however, was not their comforting power or the hope they bring, but their harshness, the difficulty of what we’re being asked. In short, they read as much like a challenge as like a consolation. All of our gifts, the wonderful things God gives us to work with within the world, are nothing without this prior gift: the gift of love.
On further reflection, however, this harshness, this difficulty, became a call to work more fully in the world. It is so common, especially among those in my own generation, to make the faith simply a matter of good works, to reduce the Christian message to charity in its most common sense. But that is, obviously, not what the Gospel is about. As always, God is calling us beyond the things of this world; the burden He asks of us is easy, but only when carried alongside Him. Without love, by these good actions, we gain nothing. Good deeds not directed at the Lord are, while helpful in the world, not the way of the Christian; our actions should always and everywhere reflect our commitment to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
What’s more, that love should frighten us a bit, not with the fear of this world, but with the fear of God, the holy terror of being loved despite our unworthiness. This love must be made manifest not only in our good deeds but in our thoughts, in our words, and in what we do (so that we might not fail to do anything).
In a country (and election season) torn by differences of opinion, and in a world torn by war, famine, and crisis after crisis, such godly love must pervade our every act; we must return to the Church and the Sacraments as means to sanctifying our lives, that is to say, our faith must underpin all we do, guiding us to act in the light of the Spirit.
On that note, a mentor of mine, an Orthodox priest, gave a homily just this past Sunday that further reflects this very theme. His holy words make a far better exhortation than my own:
Philanthropy saves, not theology. Philanthropy saves, not the sacramental life of the Church. It is the soup kitchens of this world that matter, and our benefit galas, and our donations to the charities, not the humble sacraments of the Church.
But such a view, my dear brethren, is a gross misunderstanding of today’s Gospel. It is, in fact, more than a misunderstanding, it is blasphemy and heresy[…]
Salvation by good works is an idea that doesn’t need Christ or His Church. Everyone can be good, for himself and to others, without having to be a Christian. One can be the adherent of any other religion, or, better yet, of no religion at all, and “be saved.” (You see, though, even the meaning of the word “salvation” makes no sense when stretched so thinly.) Then, one does not need a Savior for there are here thousands of them. I can understand how one can save us all, but if we are all saviors, then there is no one left to be saved.