But now, Lady, I ask you,
not as though I were writing a new commandment
but the one we have had from the beginning:
let us love one another.
For this is love, that we walk according to his commandments;
this is the commandment, as you heard from the beginning,
in which you should walk.
The story is told of the ancient Saint John the Evangelist: too old to preach, barely able to speak, when the congregation called upon him to say a word to them he would whisper, "Love one another."
If we do nothing else as a church, we love one another. If we fail that, we are not a church and have no part in Jesus Christ.
This affection we have for one another is the only sure sign of God's anointing. We may speak mighty truths, pronounce great doctrines, level fantastic judgments, move mountains and drain swamps; they mean nothing without love. If the world stopped aborting its babies and killing its prisoners, if the world dismantled its nuclear bombs, created clean cars and a safe Internet -- and then turned to the Church to thank us for our persuasion to make these momentous changes -- they would mean nothing if we did not love one another.
Am I paraphrasing Saint Paul's Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13? Only in the sense that he intended his reflections on love to be understood by the Church. He wasn't writing a homily for weddings! He wasn't thinking of you or me; he was speaking to us!
Sometimes I take a small rubber ball to my conversation with the Veterans in recovery from alcohol and drug abuse. I toss it to someone and he tosses it back. I toss it to someone else and perhaps he tosses it to a third person; and so it goes around the room. Then I ask, "Whose ball is it?"
It's not "mine." If it were mine it would be good for nothing. It would sit on my desk collecting dust. It's a "ball" only if it belongs to everyone who is tossing it about. You can't keep it; you can only give it away and receive it back, to be tossed out again. Baseballs, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls: they belong to groups of people who toss them from one to another. The kid who decides to take his ball and go home owns nothing.
Grace and God and love and you and me: we belong if we give ourselves away. Ungiven, we are worth nothing.