In an address that is classical, St. Paul exhorts the Corinthians: ‘Be zealous for better gifts. And I show you a more excellent way’. He then bursts into a paean of praise for charity, which is the best gift and the most excellent way, and finishes with the assertion: ‘And now there remain faith, hope and charity, these three – but the greatest of these is charity’. But not only is charity the most excellent, it is also the one essential virtue and way, for he writes: ‘If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as a sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing! And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing’.
Those are St. Paul’s words – they are also the words of God, who is the author of all the inspired Scripture. There is no evading their meaning – it is quite clear. No matter what we do, unless we do it in the love of God, it profits us nothing. God wants our love, He will be satisfied with nothing else. That is what He principally looks for in our works. The things we do or achieve are not of primary value to God, for He can create them by a mere thought – or with just as much ease He can raise up other free agents to do what we do. But the love of our hearts is something unique, something no one else can give Him. True, He could create other hearts to love Him, but once He has created us and given us free will, the love of our particular heart is something unique and in a way irreplaceable. In any case, it is not for His own sake that He wants our love, but because He desires to make us happy with Him for ever, and He can only do that if we are in love with Him.
It might seem that that is something beyond our power or choice. One speaks in human relationship of ‘falling in love’ – it is not, as it were, something deliberate, something that can be done at will. That peculiar acquiring of a new and special interest in another person, and the develop-ment of a new power to love that person, which raises the whole level of the life of a man or woman and opens the door to the highest form of human happiness, seems to be something fortuitous, an accident, a stroke of luck. Whether that be so or not, there is a very close analogy between the human and the divine. But there is one important difference in regard to the love of God. There, instead of speaking of a soul falling in love, it would be nearer the truth if one spoke of love falling into the soul. For God gives us the love with which we are to love Him – more than that, He gives us the gift of wisdom, by which we acquire a taste and a relish for God and for His friendship and His ways. Both the love and the wisdom come from God – this will help us to understand the otherwise seemingly harsh treatment of the guest who, in the Gospel parable, came to the wedding-feast, without the ceremonial garment. Unless one realizes that such garments were provided by the host, one will not understand the host’s resentment at the guest’s refusal to avail of his kindness, and one will completely miss the parallel with the man who comes to the service of God without love in his heart.
For if there is one gift that is to be had for the asking – and there are many – it is the gift of love for God.