Unpacking St. Paul's Definition of Love

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, St. Paul gives us a listing of the attributes of love and also of their opposites:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast ...

More than any other quality, love is patient. Or, in Latin, "caritas patiens est," literally, "love is suffering." The words ""patient? and "passion" come from this same word. (This is why the account of Our Lord's Crucifixion is called "The Passion" - literally, "The Suffering.") So when Paul says love is patient, he is stating that the surest sign a person has love is that person's willingness to suffer.

How does this apply to our everyday lives We can suffer in three ways:

First, we can suffer with respect to another person. For example, when we listen attentively to a person who interrupts our day and takes up our time (perhaps they're a bit slow-witted?) yet we choose not to get angry or impatient with them; or when a person insults us without knowing they have done so, yet we choose nevertheless not to respond by snapping back. In such instances God is giving us an opportunity to show love by being patient with them. And what parent doesn't know the patience required in shuttling their kids from one sport to another, getting up in the middle of the night for the crying baby? What about making that phone call to that someone you know you ought to talk to yet don't want to talk to, and doing all of this without complaining and without anger? These are just a few examples of acting with patience toward another person.

Secondly, we can suffer with respect to God. When we continue to pray to God, day after day, year after year, and when God does not answer our prayers in the timely manner or in the way we might like (and all this time we refrain from becoming angry at Him, or at least, we learn eventually to no longer become angry with Him), yet we continue to honor Him by going to Mass and by continuing in prayer. Clearly these are ways of acting with patience toward God.

Thirdly, we can suffer with respect to ourselves. To recognize that I am not perfect, that I let myself down day after day, and yet I choose to be happy with the way God made me; when I sacrifice the time and difficult effort it takes to realize the vocation in life that God has given me, and trust that somehow in this frail vessel which belongs to me, I am slowly being perfected and formed into the image of Jesus. This is a way of acting with patience toward myself.

Because patience is the primary attribute of love, if you practice patience in these three dimensions of relationships, you will become a person who has become full of love, and therefore holy.

In Christ,

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