This year I wasn’t planning to make any New Year’s resolutions. What I really wanted was a New Year’s slogan. I wanted a phrase or a saying to echo like a guiding refrain throughout 2018.
I hoped the fortune cookie following my New Year’s Eve meal of Chinese dumplings might provide the wisdom I was seeking. After all, I’ve had some pretty awesome fortunes in my day. Unfortunately, I didn’t even understand it. (This was not the first time one of my kids had to explain the meaning of a fortune to me.)
“The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.”
My daughter Siobhan can explain this to you, if you’re interested. All I knew was that this was not my New Year’s slogan.
A few days later, I was reading through my students’ homework assignments. They were responding to a series of questions about 1 Corinthians 12-14. In 1 Corinthians, Paul was addressing a community of eager but immature Christians. They wanted to follow Christ, but they were still learning. Among other issues, they seemed to be in constant competition with one another. They even bragged about their own spiritual gifts! One Christian might flaunt that she could speak in tongues, another might boast that he had more knowledge, and so on.
How did Paul communicate to the Corinthians that this behavior, this attitude, had to stop? He wrote to them about the value of their spiritual gifts, and how wonderful it was that they were all unique parts of a functioning whole. And then he offered them one guiding criterion for determining how their gifts were to be understood and used. One by one, my students noted Paul’s simple guiding rule, echoing like a refrain: “Does it build up the Church?”
And here was my slogan. Here was a simple question to ask myself in many situations, in many decisions: “If I do this...does it build up the Church? If I think this way...does it build up the Church?” To build up is to provide support, to bolster, to help, to heal. This is why St. Paul brilliantly concluded that love is the greatest spiritual gift – better by far than teaching or leading or speaking in tongues or prophecy. Love never divides as these other gifts sometimes do – when they are used to exclude, to compete, to denigrate or to build up oneself at the expense of the community. But love? Love only serves. It is patient and kind. It is not inflated. It does not brood. Love never fails.
I thought you might be looking for a slogan too, so I’m sharing. Here’s to 2018!
“Everything should be done for building up” (1 Cor. 14:26).