Saturday, September 08, 2007
Trinity XIV 2007
This Sunday’s Collect draws from a passage that was last read in Church on Quinquagesima. It draws from the famous thirteenth chapter of St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians, the chapter that describes charity- the love that is itself the very character of God. In recent decades many people have staked a claim to this kind of love, and they have no valid basis for their claim.
An error that defines love incorrectly is repeated in every generation. We all know of another case in the Episcopal Church, the facts about a man who left his wife and daughter, and yet was not disciplined by his own church. He was a priest, and has been elevated to the office of bishop, even though he left his family to live in a sinful relationship, in his case with a man. Had he merely left his wife to marry another woman, the immorality would still have been a scandal, though it would have gotten less press coverage. Let us look at these examples and take note of the truth taught by the Law and the Prophets, and most clearly by our Lord Jesus Christ: Love that is blown about by every wind of emotion and that has no sense of obligation and responsibility is not love at all, by the Divine standard. It is, I suppose, a kind of love; the lowest kind, not worthy to be called charity. As I have said before, you may say. “I love a big juicy steak.” But, you cannot say, “I have charity for a big juicy steak.”
To quote Pope Benedict from his first encyclical:
“Nowadays Christianity of the past is often criticized as having opposed the body…Yet the contemporary way of exalting the body is deceptive. Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex’, has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity. This is hardly man’s great ‘yes’ to the body…Christian faith, on the other hand, has always considered man a unity in duality, a reality in which spirit and matter compensate, and in which each is brought to a new nobility.”
That famous chapter in First Corinthians describes love, and in it we see the picture of one Man; we see Jesus Christ. Most especially we see the motivation he had for going to the cross, for letting Himself be nailed to the tree whereon He poured out is soul unto death for you and for me. And, it is this same picture we see in today’s Epistle when we read about "the fruit of the Spirit." This love gives and gives without any reservation. The opposite, all of the works of the flesh, are selfish in nature. Each of these sinful things we read about in St. Paul’s list is based on the desire to experience gratification, or it is based on the fear of loss that creates greed and covetousness. These things, selfish desire, fear and covetousness are the very opposites of Faith, Hope and Charity, these three that abide now and forever. In place of Faith is fear, in place of hope is despair, in place of love is lust. About that last one, the world does not know the difference; and, in this day and age neither do many people in the Church.
Without sacrifice, without giving, without responsibility and commitment, love is reduced to the lowest kind that merely enjoys the juicy steak, or the good times. The “flesh,” when the word is used in this negative way by St. Paul, is really meant to signify the weakness of a fallen nature that, due to sin and death, cannot rise above the drive for gratification and the instinct for survival. It needs to have even these parts of its nature transformed and converted, so that gratification is sanctified in the sacrament of matrimony where, by God’s grace, it is not the central part of the bond between man and wife. Where, in a marriage, sexual gratification may become impossible for a temporary or even a permanent or indefinite period, the sacramental grace of marriage keeps the love aflame, a truer flame than mere passion.
The love that is the Fruit of the Spirit is love that goes to the cross rather than seeking its own desire. The joy mentioned here is not extinguished by pain and death, for it looks ahead as our Lord did to “the joy that was set before Him,” so that he “endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).” This peace and this patience trust in God. This gentleness needs no strength but that which comes from above. This goodness is more than anything human strength alone can achieve, for it is the attribute of Almighty God grown and nurtured within you. This faith is one with hope and charity, and does not need gratification or even survival, but instead is able to lay down life itself without fear. This meekness inherits the earth, for God gives grace to the humble. This temperance sees even food and drink as mirrors of the Blessed Sacrament, receives all good things with thanksgiving, and treats the things of earth as transformed and sacramental; because "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory..."
This has everything to do with the gratitude of the Samaritan leper, the one man who returned to give thanks for his cleansing. May we all give thanks for our own cleansing, and allow to the Holy Spirit to grow within us “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance,” those elements of “faith, hope and charity” that are the mark of true conversion. In this way we have joy even as we follow the Lord all the way to the cross, and beyond the tomb into the light of day.