Last weekend, I was the altar server at the funeral Mass of a parishioner. When the time came for the second reading, the deceased man’s grandson walked to the ambo, opened the lectionary and began, “Love is patient, love is kind…” The quintessential reading for weddings, it was a surprising choice for a funeral Mass.
I can’t help but remember my own weddings whenever I hear this passage from First Corinthians. My mother painstakingly embroidered the text as a gift for the first anniversary of my marriage to Tom, and when, years later, Victor and I were married, I scribed each word by hand into an illuminated book for the readers to use.
But listening to it proclaimed outside its usual context, in the middle of Lent, let me pull aside the wisps of lace that usually cling and hear St. Paul’s description of what characterizes love in a very different way—as an examination of conscience.
Have I been patient? kind?
Was I jealous, pompous, or self-important?
Have I been rude? Have I sought my own interests above others?
When was my tongue too quick and too sharp?
Just how long have I brooded over that injury? How often have I rejoiced over the wrongs I perceive in others?
It strikes me that this isn’t a reading to store away, carefully wrapped in acid-free paper in a box, a memento of wedding days past, or even a way to assess my relationship with my husband. This is a mirror to hold up every day, in all my relationships. Have I been patient with the young woman staffing the library desk? Was I kind to the person in the frozen-food aisle?
I often dive into my nightly Examen with my eyes already on a difficult moment, like my students anxious to fix the problem that is right in front of them on the homework assignment that is due tomorrow or the midterm next week. But just as I push them to think more deeply about why they are having difficulty and to identify the fundamental concept they haven’t quite grasped, so too does Paul’s letter prod me to look at what lies underneath my sins. It’s always a failure to love.
Have I borne the crosses I was meant to bear? Believed with all my being? Clung to hope in the face of trials? Endured whatever came to pass?
If I have, it is only because Love never fails me.