"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But
when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be
done away" (1 Corinthians 13:9-10).
Some people cultivate ignorance the way that other people cultivate
rosebushes. They do so out of the strange notion that morality does not
"kick in" until they possess a complete knowledge and understanding of
the moral law of God. Such people will also often make the same assumption
about the civil law of man, doing their best to remain ever ready to plead
ignorance of the law if they should happen to be arrested.
Untold generations of jurist may have ruled that "ignorance is no defense
against the law," but something weak and shifty in fallen human nature
clings persistently to ignorance as the ultimate, unanswerable defense.
And sometimes in human courts, made up of fallen human judges and fallen
human jurors, people do get away with using ignorance as a defense. They
plead, "How can I be guilty if I did not know or understand the law?" Then
sentimentality, a fallen and perverted form of compassion, takes over and
absolves the criminal, with a blithe disregard for the responsibility that
all of us, except for the truly mentally defective, must accept for our
Voluntary ignorance of right and wrong is, in fact, a sinóan act of
moral depravity. Some may point, of course, to the words of St. Paul in
todayís Epistle as a defense of ignorance: "whether there be knowledge,
it shall vanish away" (1 Cor. 13:8). What such people miss, however, when
they wrench these few words out of the context of the passage, is St. Paulís
main message about "charity."
Bible translation can be a tricky business, as we move from one language
to another. The Greek word translated as "charity" when St. Paul writes
of "faith, hope, and charity" (the three Theological Virtues, or powers
of Godís grace at work in our lives) is translated elsewhere as "love,"
as in these passages from St. Johnís First Epistle:
Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent
his Son to be the propitiation for our sins (1 John 4:10); and
And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be
the Saviour of the world. Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the
Son of God, God dwelleth in him, and he in God. And we have known and believed
the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love
dwelleth in God, and God in him (1 John 4:14-16).
The translators of the English Bible were not trying to make our lives
more difficult when they chose two different words to speak of love. They
were trying to show the difference between Godís love and our own.
Godís love is perfect, eternal, and flawless. It is always aimed at
the dignity, honor, or welfare of others. In the case of the Blessed Trinity,
the love of the Father is totally directed to the Son and the Holy Ghost,
just as the love of the Son is directed to the Father and the Holy Ghost,
and the love of the Holy Ghost is directed to the Father and the Son. Godís
love is the divine power that unites Three real Divine Persons in one Godhead,
so that it is true to call the Blessed Trinity "One God." Godís love is
Godís life, so that St. John can truly say "God is love," without his statementís
being able to be reversed like an algebraic equation into "love is God."
But why? Love is not an abstraction that can be turned into an impersonal
"god." Abstractions and ideas do not love. Persons love, and love begins
with the Three eternal Persons of the Blessed Trinity. God loves before
the world exists, and the world exists because God loved it enough to create
it from nothing. We exist because God loved us first, before we existed
to love. He created us to live with him and to join him in the communion
of divine love as men and women created in his own image and likeness.
And God, who is complete in himself, gains nothing by creating. He does
not become "more God," and he would not become "less God" if all of creation
were swept away into nothingness
Even more to the point, when we sinned against God, he continued to
love us, despite our offenses against him. He gave his only-begotten and
eternal Son to become man and to die for our sins on the Cross. He gave
us the grace of faith that we might put all our trust in his Son and receive
all the benefits of his death and resurrection. He gave us the grace of
hope to sustain us when we become aware of just how imperfect we are, even
as redeemed sinners, to enter into his fellowship. And he gave us the grace
of charity that we might begin to live as he does, by a total, selfless
love, even as we await the perfection of our living and loving on the day
of the General Resurrection, when his grace will complete us and take away
our every deficiency and fallenness.
The translators of our Bible called the grace of divine love at work
in us now "charity" to protect us from our many misconceptions of love.
As fallen creatures, we tend to think of "love" as a "feeling we have"
or as an "appetite." Thus we say things like "I love ice cream" or "I love
so and so," when all we mean is that we have experienced a desire of the
flesh. But the spiritual love of God is always directed away from the self,
and it always means living for other persons, beginning with God in heaven
and ending with the worst person we know.
Our Lord wasnít kidding when he said "Love your enemies" in the Sermon
on the Mount (Matt. 5:44). But he wasnít talking about how we feel, but
about how we live and act. And the traditional English word for "love in
action, directed towards others, without worrying about how we are going
to benefit" is charity. Charity is the greatest of the Theological Virtues
because in the world to come we will see "face to face." We wonít have
to depend on the weakness of this world to show us Godís goodness in reflections,
as in a warped, old mirror (1 Cor. 13:12). We will see Godís glory, trust
in it and hope in it, in a marvelous new way. But it will be the same charity
that we must live by then, in the Kingdom of Heaven, that we must live
by now, here on earth in this time of our probation.
Does anyone understand this reality of Godís love and glory completely,
except for God himself? Obviously not, since even the saints who proceeded
us into light are still waiting for the Last Day and its perfections to
arrive. But just as we wouldnít stop breathing or try to stop our hearts
from beating because we couldnít write an anatomy textbook, or explain
all the mysteries of our physical life, we live the new spiritual lives
that God has given us through the sacrifice of his Son by faith, hope,
and charity, looking forward to the day when we will understand all.
St. Paul admits that our knowledge is partial, but at the same time
he points out our obligation to know whatever we are able to know of Godís
will: "For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which
is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away." The
perfect Lord Jesus Christ is coming, and his judgment of the quick and
the dead will not be sentimental, and it will not be open to pleas of ignorance.
What we have been given by God now, what God has revealed to us now in
the Holy Scriptures and the teaching of his Church, is sufficient now for
us to live our lives by faith, hope, and charity.
But if what God gives us now is sufficient for us to live, then we must
know and do what he commands at once. We can know and do his commandments
because they are readily available to all men, and we arenít even being
asked for perfection. Perfection comes from God, and not from us. But to
close our hearts and minds to what God has made so readily available is
to close our hearts and minds to eternal life, and to continue to rebel
against God and to sin. Not to know both the divine and the human standards
of ordinary decent behavior is not to have charity, either to God or to
man. To sin against charity is to sin against God and to sin against life.
Charity is life for a Christian, and without it there is nothing but death.
Please note: These sermons are offered for your
meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish
them, please credit St. Andrewís Church and Dr. Tarsitano.