May 28, 2021

Love’s Litmus / Natalie Hoefer

Love’s Litmus: Measuring up to 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Natalie HoeferA few weeks ago, while reading the parable of the vine and the branches, my eyes kept falling on one line: “This I command you: love one another” (Jn 15:17).

“God,” I said, “sometimes I don’t even think I know what love really is.”

You can imagine the verse that then popped into my mind:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not boastful or arrogant or jealous or rude. It does not seek its own way. It is not irritable or resentful. It does not rejoice in wrong-doing, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor 13:4-7).

First, God the Son commands us to love one another. Then through St. Paul, God the Spirit tells us what that looks like.

What we have here, friends, is a litmus test. To see if we’re fulfilling John 15:17, we can look to 1 Cor 13:4-7.

And the love that St. Paul describes? It’s not tolerance.

The love Christ calls his followers to is agape—unconditional, unchanging, selfless, extended to all. It mirrors God’s love for us.

Agape is a doing, not a feeling. It’s a multi-faceted verb masked as a noun. And we can know if we are truly loving every person we encounter—every family member, friend, co-worker, stranger, cashier, person driving much too slowly—by comparing our actions to 1 Cor 13:4-7.

This new column will explore actions that pass the litmus test. One time it might address the patient love of foster-to-adopt parents. The next it might hold up the small, daily sacrifices involved in caring for an aging parent.

The column will also turn the tables at times: are you being loving to yourself? After all, Christ also told us to “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mt 22:39).

And sometimes it might delve further into the litmus passage—what does love “rejoices in the truth” or “hopes all things” mean?

Now I must explain: I’m not writing this column as an expert. Rather, I write it as a student trying to learn to be more loving.

In fact, I’ll need your help to write this monthly column. I imagine there are many agape experts among you, and I’m certain each one of you knows an agape guru—parents, caregivers, social workers, best friends, generous neighbors, public servants, priests and religious and deacons, and so many more.

I’d like to hear from you about people you know who pass Paul’s litmus test of love. It could be a story of heroic agape, like the fireman running into the flames to save a life.

Or, as is more often the case, it could be little, like the child who congratulates a winning competitor while having his own heart set on victory. Or the parent raising a special needs child. Or the elderly person who remains joyful despite enduring pain and sickness.

Together, I hope we can celebrate these people, learn from their examples, become students and practitioners of agape and, ultimately, help bring about God’s kingdom through our own actions that meet love’s biblical litmus.

(Send your stories of people you know who live out agape as described by St. Paul in 1 Cor 13:4-7 to Natalie Hoefer at, or call 317-236-1486 or 800-932-9836, ext. 1486. Include your parish and a daytime phone number where you may be reached.)

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