The Second Reading explains that a lot of people who look as if they are truly something are really nothing.
We are accustomed to a disconnection between appearance and reality when it comes to the greatness of people. We know that someone can be very rich and be a complete jerk. Someone can be very famous, a great scientist or a great beauty in the movies, and be a pathetic human being. Someone can be very powerful, in a company, in a nation, and be a totally rotten person. So we know that you can have riches, or fame, or power, and yet be a thorough-going loser.
What we are less accustomed to thinking about is the disconnection between the appearance of greatness and the reality when it comes to spiritual things. And that is what the Second Reading calls to our attention. Someone can be rich in religious experiences, prophesying or speaking in tongues, and yet just be a self-aggrandizing jerk. Someone can be famous for self-sacrificial care of the poor, and still be only a pathetically swollen ego of a person. Someone can have the power even to do miracles, healing the sick or moving mountains, and nonetheless be rotten to the core with arrogance and pride. You might look as if you were truly something, as far as your spiritual life goes. You might have spiritual riches, fame, or power, and still be nothing, as the Second Reading says.
But if even being Donald Trump, Kim Kardashian, or Vladimir Putin isn’t enough to make a person great, if even those who speak in tongues or care for the poor or heal the sick can be nothing, then what on earth does it take for a person to be truly something?
The Second Reading explains it: it takes love.
No human person can be anything unless he is in the image of his Creator. But God is a consuming fire of love. And so, without love, no matter what other kind of apparent greatness you may have, in reality you are nothing. You are only something if, like God, you are on fire with love.
True love is not a warm feeling of affection which tries to please everybody and never rock the boat. Rather, it is like God’s love: willing to get killed in order to bring true good to those it loves. And, like God’s love, it embraces everybody. That kind of love is truly something! And we are nothing unless we have it.
Eleonore Stump is Professor of Philosophy, Saint Louis University
**From Saint Louis University