Blessed are the meek… blessed are the patient, because “love is patient,” (makrothyméi) Pope Francis links this ascertain of 1 Corinthians 13 to God’s meekness and mercy:
“The first word used is makrothyméi… is clarified by the Greek translation of the Old Testament, where we read that God is ‘slow to anger’ (Ex 34:6; Num 14:18). It refers, then, to the quality of one who does not act on impulse and avoids giving offense. We find this quality in the God of the Covenant, who calls us to imitate him also within the life of the family. Saint Paul’s texts using this word need to be read in the light of the Book of Wisdom (cf. 11:23; 12:2,15-18), which extols God’s restraint, as leaving open the possibility of repentance, yet insists on his power, as revealed in his acts of mercy. God’s ‘patience,’ shown in his mercy towards sinners, is a sign of his real power” (Amoris Lætitia, 91).
If we are to be meek and inherit the earth then we cannot react on impulse, which gives rise to anger, calling people names, offenses, and even to murder. We are called to act like God who is slow to anger and is merciful toward those who offend him. This is a sign of real power, when we can control our emotions and not let ourselves be provoked and manipulated by the offenses of others toward us.
This doesn’t mean we are to become a pushover, as Pope Francis explains: “Being patient does not mean letting ourselves be constantly mistreated, tolerating physical aggression or allowing other people to use us” (Amoris Lætitia 92). Instead we should imitate Christ who would quietly challenge error and the self-serving exercise of power and authority by teaching the truth boldly. He also refused to yield to threats or to counter name-calling by responding in like-manner. Rather, he freely laid down his life for his sheep, patiently enduring persecution for love of us sinners.
To live like Christ means we have to love each person as they are, even with their defects and even when they complicate my life:
“Patience takes root when I recognize that other people also have a right to live in this world, just as they are. It does not matter if they hold me back, if they unsettle my plans, or annoy me by the way they act or think, or if they are not everything I want them to be. Love always has an aspect of deep compassion that leads to accepting the other person as part of this world, even when he or she acts differently than I would like” (Amoris Lætitia 92).
If we truly love like this—patiently… mercifully, loving people because they are God’s children and not because they are perfect or because they make life easier and more comfortable for us—then we will reduce family and social conflicts that hurt relationships and our prospect for happiness:
“We encounter problems whenever we think that relationships or people ought to be perfect, or when we put ourselves at the center and expect things to turn out our way. Then everything makes us impatient, everything makes us react aggressively. Unless we cultivate patience, we will always find excuses for responding angrily. We will end up incapable of living together, antisocial, unable to control our impulses, and our families will become battlegrounds. That is why the word of God tells us: ‘Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice’ (Eph 4:31)” (Amoris Lætitia 92).
This is the way of the God… the way of Mary… the way of the Church… the way of the love… so let us also make it our way!
Fr. John R. Waiss
St. Augustine boldly said, “love and do what you want.” By this he was not denying the need to follow God’s Commandments, but affirming that true love naturally fulfills them all. Effectively, our Lord said the same thing when identifying the greatest commandment:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).
The two commandments of love summarize all of the Law and the prophets. If you love God with your heart, mind, strength, and soul, and your neighbor as yourself then you fulfill everything: the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes… and everything else.
Love One Another as I Have Loved You
At the Last Supper Jesus gave us a New Commandment. Perhaps he was anticipating that we might think, “Well, since I don’t love myself much, I don’t have to love my neighbor much.” So Jesus tells us: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35)
Christ gives us an example, to love like he does, “by laying down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). As he dies on the Cross, so we must “lay down our life for the brethren” (1 John 3:1). That’s the New Commandment of Love.
Without Love, I am Nothing
True love, that loves others like Christ loved us, takes effort and will be expressed in a myriad of ways. In his wonderful post-synodal exhortation on marriage and the family, Amoris Lætitia, Pope Francis develops St. Paul’s words on love as the greatest spiritual gift:
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not 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 have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
“Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).
In the following weeks we will join the Pope in unpacking these words of St. Paul, linking them to the Commandments and Beatitudes. Then we shall see the true meaning of God’s law of love.
Fr. John R. Waiss
PS: Happy Mothers’ Day to all mothers, biological and spiritual, who taught us all how to love!
God wants us to be happy and to reach our ultimate beatitude: to be with him in heaven. The only thing that will really make us happy is love.
That is why God gives us the Gifts of the Holy Spirit—who personifies the love between the Father and the Son—as lead us into a loving relationship with the Son and the Father through love. These seven gifts make the way to happiness not only easier but even possible. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, council, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.
Love moves us to see beyond our wants and desires so as to see things through the eyes of our beloved. When we see through the eyes of the all-wise God we receive the gift of wisdom. As Pope Francis explains:
“If we listen to the Holy Spirit, he teaches us this way of wisdom, he endows us with wisdom, which is seeing with God’s eyes, hearing with God’s ears, loving with God’s heart, directing things with God’s judgment. This is the wisdom the Holy Spirit endows us with, and we can all have it. We only have to ask it of the Holy Spirit” (General Audience, April 9, 2014).
Wisdom leads us to know what is of God and what is not, enabling us to make choices that will lead us to union with God in heaven—beatitude!
The other gifts do the same. Understanding is the gift we receive when love for God opens our mind to see how each thing leads to or from salvation. “Through the gift of counsel, it is God himself, through his spirit, who enlightens our heart so as to make us understand the right way to speak and to behave and the way to follow” (Pope Francis, General Audience, May 7, 2014). This way God guides our conscience in making decisions and guiding others.
Love for God gives us fortitude to bear the difficulties in our path to our beloved: “I can do all things in him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:15), even to the point of martyrdom: I would rather die rather than offend my beloved. Knowledge is the gift where love moves us to see God in all creation and as a gift from our love. This leads us to respect all persons and creatures.
Piety is the gift that is reflected in our gratitude and praise of our beloved and all God has done for us. As Pope Francis reminds us: “The gift of piety means to be truly capable of rejoicing with those who rejoice, of weeping with those who weep, of being close to those who are lonely or in anguish, of correcting those in error, of consoling the afflicted, of welcoming and helping those in need” (General Audience, June 4, 2014).
The fear of the Lord recognizes our littleness and God’s greatness. It is a gift of the love of a child for his Father from whom the child receives all s/he needs. It moves us to fear losing our love by offending him in any way.
Our human weakness is no excuse for failing to love God. All we need to do is ask, as our Lord reminds us: “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13). God gives us these Gifts of the Holy Spirit to enable us to love him in return. The fruits of this love—of the Holy Spirit—is: charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, generosity, meekness, faith (faithfulness), modesty, continence, and chastity.
Fr. John R. Waiss
Morality is about learning how to love, for “if I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love… if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains… [Even] if I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3).
But we need to learn how to love. This is why our Lord teaches us the Beatitudes: to teach us how to love. And the family is the true school of love, as Pope Francis reminds us: “Love is experienced and nurtured in the daily life of couples and their children” (Amoris Lætitia, 90).
In the Beatitudes our Lord says blessed are the poor; St. Paul’s canticle of love says love is not jealous or envious, zelói in Greek (1 Corinthians 13:4). Pope Francis explains:
“This means that love has no room for discomfiture at another person’s good fortune (cf. Acts 7:9; 17:5). Envy is a form of sadness provoked by another’s prosperity; it shows that we are not concerned for the happiness of others but only with our own well-being. Whereas love makes us rise above ourselves, envy closes us in on ourselves. True love values the other person’s achievements. It does not see him or her as a threat. It frees us from the sour taste of envy. It recognizes that everyone has different gifts and a unique path in life. So it strives to discover its own road to happiness, while allowing others to find theirs” (Amoris Lætitia, 95).
In marriage and family, nothing is mine and yours, but everything is ours. In good marriages, the couple combines their finances after their wedding and then consults the other before making extraordinary purchases. Each one gives his all to marriage and family… it’s not a 50-50 proposition, but 100-100: God calls each of us to give everything! When we begin to think of my time, or my money, or my rest, or how much energy and effort I have put in… when we begin to make comparisons, when we close in on ourselves and begin to tear apart the marriage and family bonds.
In the family children also learn to share like their parents do and not to make comparison with their siblings. There we discover the greatest joy is found in giving, “remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (Acts 20:35). As Pope Francis continues:
“In a word, love means fulfilling the last two commandments of God’s Law: ‘You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s’ (Ex 20:17). Love inspires a sincere esteem for every human being and the recognition of his or her own right to happiness. I love this person, and I see him or her with the eyes of God, who gives us everything ‘for our enjoyment’ (1 Tim 6:17). As a result, I feel a deep sense of happiness and peace. This same deeply rooted love also leads me to reject the injustice whereby some possess too much and others too little. It moves me to find ways of helping society’s outcasts to find a modicum of joy. That is not envy, but the desire for equality” (Amoris Lætitia, 96).
The way of true love liberates us from the slavery to materialism, to see material things as they are: instruments of service and gifts of love. Love found in marriage and family gives us the poverty of spirit that will move us to practice solidarity to alleviate the sufferings of other and to cultivate a love for all peoples that transcends national, racial, ethnic, economic, and ideological differences.
Fr. John R. Waiss
As we all have a tendency to complain, blame, or curse when suffering something unpleasant, it really helps to have a loved-one who comforts us in our misfortune. This is what good families do: comfort those who suffer. Reflecting on St. Paul’s words, “love is not rude”— aschemonéi, Pope Francis encourages us to reach out to others with gentle kindness:
“Those who love are capable of speaking words of comfort, strength, consolation, and encouragement. These were the words that Jesus himself spoke: ‘Take heart, my son!’ (Mt 9:2); ‘Great is your faith!’ (Mt 15:28); ‘Arise!’ (Mk 5:41); ‘Go in peace’ (Lk 7:50); ‘Be not afraid’ (Mt 14:27). These are not words that demean, sadden, anger or show scorn. In our families, we must learn to imitate Jesus’ own gentleness in our way of speaking to one another” (Amoris Lætitia, 100).
This way of acting helps those who suffer feel understood and love, which makes their suffering bearable. When we lack this loving kindness we heartlessly add to the suffering of others, as the Pope says: “love is also to be gentle and thoughtful… love is not rude or impolite; it is not harsh. Its actions, words and gestures are pleasing and not abrasive or rigid. Love abhors making others suffer” (Amoris Lætitia, 99). This means we must learn how to listen to others, enter into their life, and have compassion so as to mourn with them. This “demands the sensitivity and restraint which can renew trust and respect. Indeed, the deeper love is, the more it calls for respect for the other’s freedom and the ability to wait until the other opens the door to his or her heart” (Catechesis of May 13, 2015, cited in Amoris Lætitia 99).
As we can see, striving to live a good life means so much more than just avoiding sin. It means acquiring many dispositions that welcomes others into our lives and to make it safe for others to open up with us. One such disposition is courtesy, as Pope Francis reminds us:
“Courtesy ‘is a school of sensitivity and disinterestedness’ which requires a person ‘to develop his or her mind and feelings, learning how to listen, to speak and, at certain times, to keep quiet.’ It is not something that a Christian may accept or reject. As an essential requirement of love, ‘every human being is bound to live agreeably with those around him’” (Amoris Lætitia, 99, citing Octavio Paz and St. Thomas Aquinas).
The Pope goes on to expand on this disposition, describing how it impacts others, especially those who mourn or suffer:
“To be open to a genuine encounter with others, “a kind look” is essential. This is incompatible with a negative attitude that readily points out other people’s shortcomings while overlooking one’s own. A kind look helps us to see beyond our own limitations, to be patient and to cooperate with others, despite our differences. Loving kindness builds bonds, cultivates relationships, creates new networks of integration and knits a firm social fabric. In this way, it grows ever stronger, for without a sense of belonging we cannot sustain a commitment to others; we end up seeking our convenience alone and life in common becomes impossible. Antisocial persons think that others exist only for the satisfaction of their own needs. Consequently, there is no room for the gentleness of love and its expression” (Amoris Lætitia, 100).
What better way to learn this essential characteristic of love than seeing it reflected in the family or in a loving marriage? This is a great way to witness to Christ and to the whole Christian Way. It is a way of love… a way of kindness… the way of the family.
Fr. John R. Waiss