It is often the case that when a young couple is planning their wedding liturgy, they gravitate to the wonderful passage in 1 Corinthians 13 describing the characteristics of love. Such a choice seems to summarize their love for each other and they want their family and friends to understand how deeply they love each other. They may not realize, however, that Paul’s description of love is, a description of the manner in which God loves.
God’s love is enduring. In a human context we could call this a habit of life or a character trait. The description Paul gives is not intended to focus on individual acts, but rather on a general way of living. When Paul says, “Love is patient, love is kind” he is not talking about a single instance of listening to a very boring person talk non-stop. He is not talking about a single instance of giving a few coins to a homeless person on the street. Rather, he thinks of patience and kindness as enduring character traits that a person uses to form one’s whole personality.
The poem on love, then, becomes not only a description of humans loving and caring for each other, but also a narrative of God’s own manner of loving. When Paul says, love, “… bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails,” he is portraying God’s relationship to all of creation and especially to human beings. Not only does the passage describe God’s way of loving, but it also is an invitation for us to manifest in our lives God’s way of loving toward all around us.
If we take the sentence, “God is love” (1 Jn 4:8) seriously, then all the characteristics of love enumerated by Paul are actually descriptions of God. These characteristics are the very nature of God. As we live our human lives we attempt to mirror the same attributes in our own lives not by individual acts, but as a manner of living.
The young couple who chooses this passage as part of their wedding ceremony selects a beautiful selection from Scripture. The choice is initially very romantic, and, as they lead their married life, the attributes listed in the passage grow and deepen. It is a constant invitation to always have the well-being of the spouse uppermost in their mind and heart. The more the young couple develops this attitude over the years, the more their very life together and individually become a symbol of God’s love. When they celebrate 40, 50 or even 60 years together they have been transformed by love into images of God’s self.
Fr. Treloar, an assistant director at Jesuit Retreat House, Oshkosh, has served as a professor, lecturer, author and academic administrator.