Understanding Our Church

A Treasury of Arkansas Writers Discussing the Catholic Faith

Christian love is lived out through selfless actions, not just words

Published: February 7, 2004

By Judy Hoelzeman

Valentine’s Day is coming and love is in the air — or is it? I was attracted to a coffee mug in a store window with the familiar words from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 13: “Love is patient; love is kind …” (4-13) I didn’t buy it, of course (I still cut out construction paper hearts), but it did make me think about how society’s idea of love compares with the New Testament definition of love.

When Paul was writing to the Corinthians about love, he was feeling anything but sentimental. The Corinthians were new Christians surrounded by a pagan culture. The pagan gods didn’t demand any particular kind of moral behavior. So, Paul had to keep reminding the Corinthians that Christian love meant treating others with respect and concern, building up the community.

The Greek word for love is agape. It is not an abstract concept, but a conviction of the mind and heart that leads to actions. And actions always speak louder than words. Jesus modeled agape love so well that we understand his constant giving as the way God loves us. Our baptismal vocation calls us to share that kind of love with our brothers and sisters right now, wherever we are.

This love, Paul taught, is one of the three enduring realities of Christian life. No matter how much attractive “stuff” the pagan culture offers, faith, hope, and especially, love, are the only realities worth working toward. It often feels like we’re surrounded by a pagan culture like the Corinthians were. The beautiful words of Chapter 13 offer practical ways to look at how well we’re modeling Christian love.

Here are two ideas. Read 1 Corinthians 13, verses 4-7, and instead of reading “love,” insert “I.” Your reading might sound like this: “This morning (with my spouse, children, family, roommates) I was patient, I was kind …” Or “Today, at work, I was not rude or ill-tempered; I did not brood when my hard work was unappreciated …” This is a powerful exercise. Another prayer technique is to use verses 4-8 to recall three things about the day: an encounter, a decision and activities.

First, recall the most memorable conversation or encounter, the one that stirred up the most emotion. When I spoke, did my words flow from kindness or did they flow from fear? Was I defensive, afraid of the other person’s opinion of me or my abilities? Was my reaction based on past resentment, where I’ve been brooding over injury?

If the conversation was about someone else, did I acknowledge the best about him or her? Or did I speculate on the worst? Next, recall a decision made that day. Did I make it after enough reflection or was I impatient? Was it in the best interests of everybody or was it made mostly to suit me? Was it based on fear or trust in God’s direction? Then review the pace of the day’s activities.

Can I honestly say that everything I tried to cram in was necessary? How many activities did I feel good about? How many did I resent? How many helped build God’s kingdom in some way? Examining our seemingly unimportant daily habits is the best way to grow in agape love, because it looks at what’s real. Saginaw Bishop Kenneth Untener puts it this way: “Think small, then it’s real. And when it’s real, it’s big.” Put some real, big love in the air this Valentine season.