K NOWLEDGE ONLY PUFFS UP; LOVE THOUGH BUILDS UP. St. Paul, of course, was a very learned man; he had devoted much of his life to scholarship. He was a master of the Law, a theologian. He well knew where his knowledge led him before he was given a higher knowledge. He found himself fighting against God, persecuting the saints: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?... I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goad... After he was given the light of faith, he discovered a new kind of knowledge, the knowledge of a love inspired by the Spirit of Jesus. This spiritual love was powerful enough to re-orient all the knowledge Paul had so laboriously acquired, and to direct it to the service of the Gospel of Jesus. This love gave him a new understanding of himself: it made him a servant of Jesus Christ, set aside for the Gospel of God (Rom 1:1). In this capacity all Paul's earlier acquisitions of learning proved useful in building up the Church of Christ.
In today's reading Paul goes on to indicate how vain knowledge so readily proves to be a destructive source; used egotistically, it inflicts serious harm on a brother. Daily experience shows us how easily we slip into such a snare. In spite of our intention to use our skills and knowledge in the service of others, how easily we are deceived by our vanity. We take advantage of the superiority that knowledge bestows on us to insist on our way, or to gain our ends, without giving sufficient consideration to the sensitivities and interests of a brother. Nothing is more human in our fallen state than to advance ourselves at the expense of another when the advantage of a fuller knowledge presents us with the possibility. It requires a deeply honest person, one who has made himself a servant of others through love, to resist all such temptations.
Paul tells us in this passage that love builds up. He does not state explicitly just what it constructs, though we can infer that from the illustration he goes on to provide. What love builds is soul; what it creates is the free gift of life; life that is enhanced, intensified, enriched. Love is ultimately the one great creative force in our universe. Love alone explains the very existence of the created world, as the greatest theologians have well understood. God had no other reason to share existence with any one or anything outside Himself save only love. He sufficed to Himself. Three infinite persons united in the perfect harmony of total sharing and understanding, God lacks nothing for His fulfillment. The universe came into being, then, not from some necessity; its very existence is inexplicable except in terms of mystery- the mysterious creative force of infinite love. That it continues to be guided and formed by love is a truth that we are challenged to discover for ourselves as we participate in the movement of its course through time. In his great poem on the history of our human race, Dante, after having described the terrible sufferings of sinful humanity, still could arrive at this conclusion and speak of God as the love that moves the sun and other stars.
In a world where there is so much suffering, deception and corruption can we believe that all things are ultimately operative in the service of a love so creative that nothing escapes its
purposes, nothing frustrates its intent, but rather contributes to its ends? The mystery of the passion and resurrection of Jesus that confronted St. Paul on the road to Damascus in the words addressed to him by the glorified Christ poses this question to each of us. Can we believe that God so loved the world that He gave his only-begotten Son so that everyone who believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16)? The task assigned each of us, then, is to live our faith fully. We are to penetrate into the realities of daily life with the strength afforded us by the love the risen Lord puts in our hearts so that we share with him the work of transforming this world into the new creation, one where the glory of God shines through. By acting in love in this manner, day by day, putting all our knowledge and strength in the service of this surpassing love that redeems what is otherwise lost to sin, we discover the truth that love builds up, and that what it constructs is the eternal City of God.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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