Gifts Of Love
Strive eagerly for the greatest spiritual gifts ... but the greatest of these is love
1 Corinthians 12: 31; 13: 13.
There are two indispensable gifts that are always a part of loving. We can always be sure that the two gifts are needed. The first is the gift of self through self-disclosure. All other gifts of love - like flowers, jewelry, cigars and candy - are mere tokens and symbolic expressions. The essential gift of love is always the gift of ourselves. If I do not give my true and authentic self, I have given nothing, but pretense and sham. We then become witnesses to our own charade.
The second essential gift of love is the affirmation of the other person's worth. If I am to love another, somehow I must appreciate and reflect back to them an appreciation of their unique goodness and giftedness. We cannot interact with another without making some kind of contribution, either positive or negative to the all-important self-image of the other person. Nor can we interact without increasing or decreasing our own sense of self-worth. There is no question we are all like mirrors to one another. As we look forward to the coming of the Lord among us, we seek to nourish and share with others the true gifts of life and love.
The Lord teaches us, "This is my command, that you love one another" John 15: 17. The invitation from God is not extended to us individually as individuals. As individuals we are called to incorporate ourselves into the Body of Christ, His Blessed Church, the vehicle of our own salvation. We are invited to participate in the life of a faith community. We are called to become part of God's family, or as St. Paul explains and describes it, the Body of Christ. As various limbs and organs, and part of the Body, we are meaningless unless we have a relationship with the whole. As isolated cells we can live but for a limited time in a petrie dish. It is in concert, in collective action with others that we find our value and meaning. We contribute to the building up of the Body of the Lord with our unique gifts and particular contributions.
By the very nature of the invitation we can come to God only together or we cannot come at all. This is the radical meaning of "Your kingdom come." Our giftedness then, is part of all the enrichment received by others as well.
The bottom line is that I cannot say my "yes" of love to our heavenly Father's invitation without saying a "yes" of love to you my fellow believers. Likewise it is impossible for me to say I love God without also affirming I equally love you. Just as true is the fact that it is impossible for you to love God without loving me,
As He comes among us, Jesus says that if we come to place the gift of our love upon his altar and remember a grudge, and estrangement from another, we should resolve that problem first. Only then are we invited to come and lay our gift of love at the manger and at the altar of God. Only then do we have the wherewithal, to do as God expects. The Lord is clear about this. We cannot love God without loving each other. God does not want my imperfect, even blemished gift of so-called love unless it is also sincerely offered to you as well. God does not want your gift of love unless you also share that rich gift with me.
We then understand how important is the word please because even our considerate heavenly Father who created us respects and loves us so deeply He asks before hand the permission of Mary to be born in the flesh.
"You shall love your neighbor as yourself' Matthew 22: 39. Loving another does not mean I cease to love myself, or abnegate my own self-love in order to more richly love someone else. On the contrary, the idea that I cannot love others unless I love myself is universally accepted by those who understand the workings of man's mind and heart. Those who do not love themselves are sad, plagued by a constant sense of emptiness which they are always trying to fill. Like a person with a painful toothache, they can think only of themselves and are constantly in search of a dentist, someone who will make them feel better. If we do not love ourselves, we can only use and abuse others; we cannot love them.
If I genuinely love you, my loving can never be an abdication of my own self. I could possibly give my life for you out of love, but I could never deny my identity as a person. I will try to be what you need me to be, to do what you need done, to say whatever you need to hear. At the same time I am committed to an honest and open relationship which God can bless and strengthen. As part of our gift of love to each other, we will always offer and express our thoughts, preferences and all our feelings, even when we think they may be unpleasant, even hurtful to the feelings of the other. If we are committed to total honesty and total openness, our relationship will never become a sticky one, marked by hidden agendas, repressed resentments, displaced emotions, acting out in adolescent ways what we do not have to speak out and express ourselves about. In our relationship with our heavenly Father, with the about to be born Infant of Bethlehem, do I protect my identity in my relationship with them? We must never forget our gift of love to others will be incomplete, even sterile if we are always cutting ourselves short. We must be healthy and whole, complete as it were if we are to truly give of ourselves and share with others all the gifts heaven has enriched us with.
"Serve one another through love" Galatians 5: 13. Jesus our Lord lives in each communicant of the Church. This is the unique way our God has provided that people of this and of all generations to come can meet Jesus in us, in you and in me! We are the flesh and blood, the bones and muscle of our Saviour, the sinew and tendons of our God in Jesus. We are God's planned way of sharing divine life and divine love, in this holy time we must come to see, to recognize and to learn that the Lord has no hands, no arms but ours to embrace those in need around us. There are no other hearts with which to express the love of God except our own. There is no mind to reverberate the values and meaning of Christian life except our own. Christ has no feet except ours to carry him where He is needed but our own. How truly true this reality is. We, the Church, we the communicants of the Body of Christ, we the members of the Body of salvation are his only hands, his only lips, his only mind and heart. The embrace so many experience will only be at our response to needed love. We indeed are the extension of Jesus in space and the prolongation of Jesus in time. He can reach out because we give him the use of our limbs and embracing arms. We will continue his work of redemption, loving this world into life, or it will not be done. The Kingdom of God marches forward on our feet.
"Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, 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. It bears all things, believes all things hopes all things, endures all things" 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7.
A realistic sense of the worth of an individual is no doubt the greatest gift we can offer each other, the greatest contribution we can make to any one's life. We can give this gift and make this contribution only through love. However, it is essential that our love be liberating, not possessive or smothering. We must at all times give those who love the freedom to be themselves. Love affirms the other as other. It does not possess and manipulate another as belonging to us. Pertinent here is the quotation of Frederick Pers: "You did not come into this world to live up to my expectation. And I did not come into the world to live up to yours. If we meet and complement each other, it will be beautiful. If we do not, it cannot be helped and was not intended by our God."
In evaluating the quality of love we offer each other, we must forever question whether our love is in fact possessive and manipulative or really affirming and freeing. It will help to ask the questions: is it more important to me that you be pleased with yourself or that I be pleased with you? Is it more important that you attain the goals you have set for yourself or that you attain the goals I decided are important for you?
As we nobly advance towards the darkened back streets of Bethlehem to the resting place of animals, let us ask ourselves "Am I willing to be the hands of Jesus in my small world? How can I serve others this holy time with my own hands?" Lord, help us bring out the best in others. Let us be loving in my family, especially during this time of rushed experiences, heightened expectations and short fuses.