Alice, Joe, and First Corinthians

Last week I spoke at St. Joseph Church on my parents’ 65-year faith journey together; it was a version of a talk I gave in November to the Magnificat women’s prayer group. I can actually trace the beginning of their joint faith journey to letters written in June 1938, letters included in my new book The Courtship of Two Doctors. One Monday evening young Alice Baker wrote from New Orleans:

“Yesterday our preacher talked on Christian love, and his text was the beautiful thirteenth chapter of First Corinthians. I’ve never heard a more beautiful sermon….
“I like it much better with love substituted for charity, as our minister said was done in the latest translations. And doesn’t it give one something to live up to!”

She resumed a practice of hers reading a chapter of the Bible every night, and in Omaha Joe Holoubek joined her, no doubt reading some of the verses for the very first time. So a Methodist led a Catholic to a deeper grounding in Bible study.

In addition to new verses, over and over they returned to St. Paul’s beautiful passage. Wrote my father one night:

“The 13th Chapter of Corinthians has proven quite a consolation to me, and soon I will know it by heart. When it says that ‘Love (charity) beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things and never falleth away’ —darling, ours must be that way. You have my heart.”

I read all 13 verses at my father’s funeral services five years ago. Here it is in the new translation:

If I speak in human and angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.
And if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.
If I give away everything I own, and if I hand my body over so that I may boast but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, (love) is not pompous, it is not inflated,
it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury,
it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth.
It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails. If there are prophecies, they will be brought to nothing; if tongues, they will cease; if knowledge, it will be brought to nothing.
For we know partially and we prophesy partially,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things.
At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.
So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

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