“Will anything last”

12 Feb 2019 by Mark Trudeau, Comments Off on “Will anything last”

The great Irish poet William butler Yeats once spotted a little girl building sandcastles on a beach in Normandy, France. The mere sight of a child at play delighted the sentimental poet, and brought a smile to his face. His delight turned to sadness a short time later after a huge wave came ashore and rolled over the sand, resulting in the ruination of the young girl’s work. His thoughts immediately turned to all the many great cultures and civilizations that had been washed away by the waves of time. Moreover, he reflected on his own mortality, that a day would come when he would turn to dust. “Will anything last”, he wondered.

St. Paul has the answer!

His ‘hymn to charity’ in the thirteenth chapter of his first Letter to the Corinthians, is surely one of the most beautiful pages in all of Paul’s writings. In this epistle, he maintains that the one reality in life that is enduring, and will never disappear, is love, the deepest of all mysteries. In his words, “It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails” (1 Cor.13:7-8). Only love knows no end. Love, genuine love, is of the fabric of eternity. The gift of love expresses God’s very life and is the foundation of all reality. “God is Love”, writes John the Evangelist, “and he who abides in God abides in love” (I Jn.4:16) The love Paul writes of in his letter is one always thinking and acting for the good of others and never for oneself first.

One could easily anticipate this epistle of St. Paul being proclaimed at weddings. To be sure, It is very popular with young couples, even those who may not even be churchgoers or even faintly familiar with the Word of God. But would a family in mourning consider aforementioned reading for a funeral mass?

In 1997, a funeral service was held at England’s Westminster Abbey for Diana, Princess of Wales, and the late wife of Prince Charles. The then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a later convert to the Catholic Church, read the passage from 1 Corinthians 13 chosen by the young princess’s family. Paul’s stirring words reminded the congregation assembled for the service that love never dies; it is indestructible. He makes a strong case for immortality. In the Song of Songs, one of the books of the Old Testament, we read, “Many waters cannot put out love nor rivers sweep it away” (Song of Songs 8:7).

In the mid 1990’s I celebrated daily mass for a religious community of Carmelite nuns in Schenectady. Upon entering the monastery you saw a large signs with a powerful inscription from the pen of St. Teresa of Avila, a sixteenth century reforming nun and member of the Carmelite order. It read, “All things in life are passing away. Only heaven lasts”.

Love gave one of the great figures of the Carmelite order, St. Therese of Liseaux , the key to understanding her vocation as a consecrated woman. Among her writings was a passage in which she talks about her search for what she believed to be her own unique calling to serve the Church. For help, she turned to St Paul. His writings taught her that not everyone is called to be an apostle, a prophet or a teacher. This left her baffled but still determined. She kept on reading.  Suddenly, she comes to the words in today’s reading. She writes, “Nearly ecstatic with supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed, ‘O Jesus, at last I have found my calling”’ .

Love is the measure by which we will all be judged once our earthly pilgrimage is complete. May we all be inspired and led by Paul’s teaching on the greatest of the theological virtues and the highest of all gifts, the mystery of love.

 

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