St. Paul Shows Us What Love Is—And What It Isn’t

One of the greatest spiritual masterpieces ever penned on the topic of love is from Saint Paul in his thirteenth chapter to the Corinthians. At weddings, this is often one of the favorite second Readings in the context of the Nuptial Mass. If the couple, as well as all of us, would seriously read, meditate, and strive to understand the importance and meaning of these few verses, without a doubt the understanding that we have of Love would be radically transformed. And of course, as a consequence, the way we would strive to live out this most demanding virtue would change.

We would like to extract four short verses from I Corinthians 13—verses 4-7 and expound upon and explain these few verses related to love. 

“Love is patient, love is kind. Love is not jealous, it 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. Love does not rejoice over wrong-doing, but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” 

Saint Paul, obviously led by the Holy Spirit, was truly inspired to highlight characteristics of charity or supernatural love and its concrete application. In a word, love/charity is not a mere ephemeral sentiment, or passing emotion, or transitory romantic glimmer or smile. Quite the contrary: supernatural love, that is termed in theological language charity, is very demanding. According to the Angelic Doctor, Saint Thomas Aquinas, it is indeed the greatest of all virtues!

This being said, we would like to simply list the terms of what love is and what it is not according to Saint Paul and give a brief explanation of these words, with the hope that all of us would have the audacious courage and trust in God’s grace to put this sublime virtue into practice in our daily lives! Off we go!!!

1. Love is Patient

Are you patient?

Examine your life, specifically in three basic areas related to patience. Are you patient with God and the way He deals with you in your life? Or do you question and rebel against God’s providential designs?

Next, are you patient with others, especially those with whom you associate on a daily basis? Or is your attitude and philosophy, “It’s my way or the Highway!”

Finally, are you patient with yourself? By this is meant, when you fail, do you give in to discouragement or rise from your fall and start anew?

Examine yourself on patience in these three areas!

2. Love is Kind

If you do not really understand the whole concept of being kind or kindness, we offer you the antithesis, the opposing vice, and that would be the demeanor of a mean person. Such a person is often bitter, angry, sharp, sarcastic, calculating, touchy.

On the other hand, the kind person exudes joy, mercy, compassion, a winning smile. A kind person is tender, loving, and supportive. A kind person will not judge, criticize, and condemn but overlook quickly the faults and limitations of his brothers and sisters.

3. Love is Not Jealous

A jealous person tends to compare himself with others, and, as a result, is never really at peace with himself. Jealousy and envy are related. Jealousy can be explained as a person who feels bad when somebody has something he does not have, he feels bad because of this absence in his life.

Envy is worse! The envious person rejoices when something bad happens to the person who has more than he has. The opposite of jealousy and envy would be fraternal charity—to will the good of the other. Saint Paul expresses this perfectly: “To rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep.” (Rom 12:15)

Another manifestation of the opposing virtue would be that of admiration. You do not downplay the goodness of your neighbor, but rather you admire him and compliment him.

4. Love Is Not Pompous, Not Inflated

Both the words pompous and inflated can be united as whole. Such a person is proud, conceited, a braggart, self-seeking, self-aggrandizing, ostentatious, as well as demeaning and disparaging towards others. Also, such a person is egocentric; he wants to be the focal point of attention. He wants at all times and places to be, so to speak, the life of the party. Possibly the best image from the animal world would be that of the peacock—always ready and willing to show off his plumage, show off his rainbow colors so that all can see!

The contrary is a person who is soft-spoken, unassuming, hidden, modest, never over-bearing, who seeks the honor of others rather than himself.

5. Love is Not Rude

We all have met rude people and possibly have given into being rude ourselves. What are the qualities of a rude person? He is pushy, can never wait, cuts in line, elbows his way to the first place, and is a perpetual complainer. A rude person is uncouth, vulgar in speech, coarse, bloated in self-importance. Maybe we have given into the attitude of being a rude dude to the detriment of our family and work environment.

The opposite is a gentleman or lady. Such a person is courteous, gentle, refined, soft-spoken, polished, and well-mannered at home and everywhere.

6. Love Is Not Quick-Tempered

Quick-tempered is meant that such a person has a very short fuse. He explodes at the drop of a hat. Anything—whether it be person, place, thing, or circumstance—that does not flow and harmonize with his particular criteria can cause him to go into at least a minor rage. The quick-tempered person blurts out whatever comes to his mind without a moment of reflection, and consequently can cause irreparable damage to himself, to his family, to his relatives, and to countless other people. His impulsive, impetuous, explosive, knee-jerk reactions to all that is not according to his tastes is like living or associating with someone who has firecrackers in his pockets and matches ready at hand!

The opposite is a person who is capable of suffering bad language and insults, even physical sufferings in silence, uniting himself to Jesus in His Passion and sufferings.

7. Love Does Not Brood Over Injuries

The person who broods over injuries has not learned how to forgive; he has not understood the importance of the greatest virtue in the Heart of Jesus—that of mercy.

The opposite of brooding over injuries is forgiving those who offend us right away and from the heart. It is putting into practice the prayer of Jesus in the Our Father, in the petition, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Jesus is the most sublime example, especially as He hangs on the cross and from the depths of His loving and Sacred Heart cries out: “Father forgive them, for they know not what they are doing.” (Lk 23: 34)

8. Love Does Not Rejoice Over Wrongdoing, but Rejoices With the Truth

Love and truth must work and collaborate as a total whole. A person motivated by true love will never call sin, virtue; nor right, wrong. Impossible!

Love is honest; love is sincere; love is transparent and not murky. Love will strive to correct wrongdoing. This is called the virtue of fraternal correction. Upon seeing someone in sin or in the wrong, a person motivated by love will have the courage, the honestly, and the zeal to try to bring the wandering sheep back to the fold, back to the flock, back to the arms of Jesus who is the Good Shepherd even of the wandering sheep.

9. Love Bears All Things, Believes All Things

In bearing all things, we are called to contemplate Jesus in His Passion as He carries the cross—a cross weighed down by the weight of all the sins of all of humanity, from Adam and Eve until the last person in the world, and that includes our own personal sins. If the person who is loaded down with trials, tribulations, afflictions, and contradictions of all sorts, lifts up his eyes to Jesus carrying the cross with the sins of the whole world, his strength will be renewed.

The prayer and meditation over Jesus’ patient endurance of the cross is a powerful motivation to imitate the Lord and His infinite love. By believing all things, we call to mind the modern classic of the Secretary of Divine Mercy, Saint Faustina, in Divine Mercy in My Soul. One of the hallmarks of this classic is that of believing Jesus in all of His words and promises, trusting Jesus in all times and places, summarized in these five simple but most profound words: JESUS, I TRUST IN YOU!

10. Love Endures All Things

One of the key virtues of the followers of the Lord Jesus is that of enduring all things; another way of expressing this is the virtue of perseverance. Jesus Himself stated: “He who perseveres until the end will be saved.” (Mt 24-13)

Using an image from sports, Saint Paul states that not all of the runners in the stadium, in the marathon, will win the race, but only one. We are called to be that one in the Heart of Jesus. Saint Alphonsus Maria Liguori insisted upon the importance of enduring until the end with the concept of final perseverance.

As we conclude our essay, let us prayerfully meditate upon the words of Saint Alphonsus with regard to final perseverance: “The grace of all graces to persevere in the state of grace.” Let us beg the Blessed Virgin Mary for this supreme and most exalted of all graces. She who is the full of grace, we beg her for the grace to live in grace, grow in grace, persevere in grace, and die in the state of grace, so as to attain the crown of our greatest reward—Heaven for all eternity!

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Father Ed Broom is an Oblate of the Virgin Mary and the author of Total Consecration Through the Mysteries of the Rosary and From Humdrum to Holy. He blogs regularly at Fr. Broom's Blog.

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