Only Love Remains
Wednesday September 18, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Twenty-fourth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13) Gospel (St. Luke 7:31-35)
Saint Paul in the first reading tells us that while all of the spiritual gifts are good, there is a way that is still more excellent - and that is love. The importance of this is twofold. First of all, one can have all kinds of spiritual gifts without having love. We can recall that charismatic gifts, for instance, do not say anything about the holiness of the individual who has them. One can be in the state of mortal sin and still have a charismatic gift and still be able to use that gift - the gift of healing or speaking in tongues or whatever - because a charismatic gift is not given for the individual who has it, but rather, it is given for others. The priesthood, for instance, is a charismatic gift. If a priest is in the state of mortal sin, he can still say Mass and he can still hear confessions because it is not the priest's subjective state that is required in order for the Eucharist to be valid or for the absolution to be valid or whatever, and so it is with any of the gifts.
Now that also includes the gifts, for instance, of knowledge and of ability. You may have the ability to know all kinds of theological truths, or maybe you have a great interest in the Mass and you know all the rubrics upside down and inside out like many people seem to do these days. Yet what they are doing is using it for the wrong reason; there is no charity in what they are doing. They want to know all these things so they can make judgments and do all kinds of other selfish sorts of things. And what good is it?
There was a meeting of all of the rectors of seminaries (this was going on year after year) and the question would come up every year: "What are we doing wrong? We are teaching these men for four years and they are walking out of the seminary with no love for Jesus. What is it that's wrong? We're teaching them truth." (That is, in the seminaries where they are teaching the truth.) One rector finally came back after four or five years of this question being kicked around and he said, "The problem is that we are teaching them head knowledge but we're not teaching them anything about the heart. They don't have a relationship with Jesus. They know all about Him, but they don't have a relationship with Him. They don't love Him." And so they can spew out all kinds of theological truth, but they have no love. What good is it? Without a love for Jesus, you are not going anywhere. You can spin your wheels and you can make yourself look impressive, but there is nothing. All the knowledge and all the wisdom and all the understanding and all the other things - what good is it going to do?
Somebody with very little theological training or understanding or knowledge but who is in love with Jesus Christ is far better off than someone who can spew out all kinds of book knowledge but has nothing in the heart. That is exactly what Saint Paul is telling us. All the knowledge is going to pass away; all the prophecy is going to pass away; all the speaking in tongues will pass away - but love remains. And that is what we have to be about. Ultimately, all the knowledge we need to have is that Jesus Christ is truly Present in the Blessed Sacrament, and that knowledge had better get us there and onto our knees and in front of Him so that we can open up our hearts and talk to Him so that we can have our lives changed to become like Him. That is the kind of knowledge we need. When we have that, then the Lord will provide everything else.
Look at little Saint Bernadette, who hardly had any education at all, and yet she baffled the theologians with her answers when they would fire one question after the next at her because she was in love with Jesus Christ and she was in love with the Truth, who is Jesus Christ. Therefore, answering questions about theology was a piece of cake for her because she was looking at Jesus, who is the Theos, who is God. And so to speak words about God (which is what the word "theology" means) was no problem for her because she was united with God. She could speak about Him rather fluently without having ever learned in a book because she knew Him intimately. She did not know about Him, she knew Him.
That is what the Lord wants for us. He wants us to study Him, not to study about him. He does not care what we have in the head; He cares what we have in the heart. While it is obvious that we need to be about the truth and we need to try to get rid of anything that is false or heretical in our minds, it is about the heart. And that is where it has to be because love is all that is going to remain. The virtues of faith and hope are even going to pass away when we get to Heaven - they will also pass away if we go the other direction - but assuming we go to Heaven, all that will remain is love. And where we are in Heaven is going to depend on how much we love in this life.
Therefore, that must be our goal: to love Jesus more. Everyday we should love Him more so that as we grow in love, we will be able then to transfer that love into eternity where we will be able to love Him for all eternity with the most love that we can. It does not matter how much we know about Jesus; what matters is how much we love Jesus. If we love Him, everything else will follow - not loving Him in a syrupy, sappy way - but truly loving the Lord. Then the knowledge will be there, and everything else will be there. So we need to learn; we need to put our minds to work; but we need to get into the heart. We need to focus on the relationship with Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and we need to grow in love, because in the end the only thing that is important and the only thing that will remain is love.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.