Love is a Decision

(Homily for Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C)

St. Paul tells us that a person can be a great motivational speaker, a dynamo of energy but, if he does not have love, he is nothing. He can work his fingers to the bone, make great sacrifices (including his very life) but if he does not have love, it does no good.

What is love? In his famous poem, one that engaged couples often choose for their wedding ceremony, Paul describes love’s qualities:

Love is patient, love is kind.
It 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,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.

Then he tells us that true love does not come to an end. It never fails. He cannot be referring to the love described in popular songs. That love is an emotion - a strong, irresistible attraction. That kind of love does not last very long – as Hollywood stars have dramatically demonstrated. Emotions change. Irresistible attraction can rapidly turn into unbearable revulsion.

Now, emotions are obviously important. We float on a churning sea of emotions. They toss us here and there, sometimes for good purposes, other times to the destruction of ourselves and others. For that reason we should do all in our power to cultivate emotions which help us do the right thing. Yet - thanks be to God - love itself is not an emotion. Love is a decision.

Someone who brilliantly articulated this was the great civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King. He dreamed of the day when people would judge others not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. Character is the ability to make a decision and carry through, to fulfill ones promise.* Love requires character. It is a decision.

Fortunately, the decision is not entirely our own. If it were, we would all be lost. Not only do our emotions changes, but also our power to make decisions - and stick with them - is weak and limited. To fortify our weak wills, God comes to our assistance when we call upon him. He gives us grace which can be defined as his decision to love us. Grace alone make us loving and lovable.

We can see the need for grace when we consider an essential quality of love - namely forgiveness. Every relationship – from friendship all the way to marriage itself – depends upon the ability to forgive. Without forgiveness a human relationship can barely last a week, let alone a lifetime. St. Paul speaks about a love which endures all things, which does not brood over injuries. None of us can have that kind of love without grace. That power comes from God first forgiving us. We don’t have it on our own. Sure, we can excuse the other person, but to really forgive depends on God’s action – on his decision to first love us.

The Catechism describes the three theological virtues: faith, hope and charity (love). It reaffirms what St. Paul teaches – that the greatest of these is love. “By charity,” states the Catechism; “we love God above all things and our neighbor as ourselves for love of God.” (1822) Without charity we cannot go to heaven. In fact, without it would not want to go to heaven. The sight of God and the saints would be abhorrent to the one without charity. Charity is heaven.

We ask God for that gift – for the strength of character to make the decision to love.

************

*There may come a moment when a person must say, “enough is enough.” However, that moment probably does not come as quickly as those in my generation (baby boomers) tend to conclude. People of the previous generation certainly put up with a lot more before thinking about throwing in the towel. My mom endured things which most modern women would not. At the end of their lives they had something beautiful. I know no better word for it than “love.”

Final Version

Versión Castellana

From Archives (Homilies for Fourth Sunday, Year C):

2016: New Beginning: Living God's Plan
2013: Spiritual Combat
2010: Three Levels of Love
2007: We Are Doing It For Someone
2004: Love is a Decision
2001: Standing Against the Culture
1998: Catholic Schools Week

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