St. Paul writes about the many gifts given to the Church, both in his time and in ours. In 1 Corinthians 12:10 we read, “To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers’ kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues.” St. Paul knew that the Church needed all of these gifts if it were to move forward in the world – if it were to really live and function well as a Christian body.
St. Paul further reminds his readers that the base of all such gifts was love. I knew that I was living properly in the world if I could listen to how God was speaking to me moment by moment. I couldn’t take anything for granted. If I rely only on intellectual methods, both verbal and oral, I could be easily misled. Joseph Goebbels was a major intellectual power in the Nazi Party in Germany. He had a Ph.D. And non-withstanding, he must share responsibility for the deaths of millions.
In my home state of Massachusetts, there is a city named Salem. In the late 1600s women were accused of being witches and hung; 19 women in fact. Many more women were arrested – along with children. And 19 women were killed. The Bible was referred to often enough. The European intellectual tradition was pointed to for guidance. Certainly, there were many intellectual books on the subject. The main prosecutor, Cotton Mather’s father, was a major figure in what is now Harvard University. His name was Increase Mather. How did this persecution end? Well, one of the last persons accused was the wife of the Governor. This infuriated the Governor and he ended up forbidding the use of “spectral evidence” in the trials used to condemn women arrested for witchcraft. What this means is that if someone looks at me in a certain was and I feel, say, pain somewhere in my body, I could say that this same “someone” was a witch and have him/her arrested. Once spectral evidence ended, so did the trials.
What seems to be lacking in the example of Joseph Goebbels and the witchcraft trials was love, as St. Paul would insist that we do. The result was not the betterment of society, but rather evil – ending in many deaths and much harm.
As a living alternative, consider the example of Gandhi of India. He was fighting the hold of power that England had over his country of India. One day he was leading a demonstration and it looked like it was about to become violent. So, he canceled it. His many followers begged him to reconsider. This is how he replied: “God is absolute Truth. I am a human. I only understand relative truth. So, my understanding of truth can change from day to day. And my commitment must be to truth rather than to consistency.”
How does one understand truth? There are books written in answer to this question, but with all the answers offered, St. Paul would have us understand that the basis for all of them is love. History shows that when people depart from this basic principle, the results are less than desirable. When I am truly loving, I am not concerned for either power or enhancement of my ego. I am concerned for others, and I understand how to live to serve others by discerning along with the larger Church, in prayer, with God foremost in my thoughts. God bless!