For the love of God unity is essential

  • February 2, 2023

St. Paul’s hymn of love in 1 Corinthians 13 is commonly used as the New Testament reading at weddings. It is a good choice as it is a reminder that love can be difficult and that it requires husband and wife each to go beyond their comfort zone for love to be real.

Paul states that love is patient and kind, not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. Love is not bossy, irritable or resentful. The loving person puts up with a lot that he or she would rather not endure. Above all, love never comes to an end.

In all likelihood, Paul was not thinking of weddings and marriage when he wrote that famous chapter. For his reflection on love came amid a lengthy letter to the Church in Corinth, which was fractious and riven by the self-centred actions of its members. The Church’s members engaged in unrelenting shoving matches for superior status, wealth and power.

The wealthy members of the community refused to share their food with the poorer members at their community meals. Some claimed that the gifts they had received from the Holy Spirit were greater than gifts received by others. Factions were created as some claimed, “I trust in Richard Rohr” while others said, “I am a John Paul II Catholic.” (Not exactly, but you get the idea.)

So, the letter was an effort to tell the Corinthians to cool their tensions and strive for unity: “I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”

Paul made his entreaties for unity not simply because the tiny Christian community needed to erect a united front in the face of an unbelieving world. Rather, unity is essential because God Himself is one. Moreover, not only is God one, but God is love. The plea for unity has a theological foundation more than a practical one.

Again, the unity of the community is not an ideal but a reality. “For in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body — Jews or Greeks, slaves or free — and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.” To elevate one’s opinions and actions above those of others is to fracture the body. 

What are we to do to increase unity — in society and in the Church? Paul does not tell those who had nothing to eat at the community meal to accept their lot without complaint. Unity is not achieved by accepting injustice. Rather, Paul scolds those who over-consume while others go hungry: “Do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing?” What a grievous sin is that!

The rapidly growing economic inequality in Canada is the result of indifference to structural injustice as much as a lack of generosity. Corporate tax rates and taxes on the wealthy have plummeted in recent generations, forcing cuts to social programs, growing homelessness, increasing psychological problems and an astonishing growth in drug addiction. What does unity mean in these circumstances?

It surely means to advocate for those who are marginalized in our society’s division of wealth and power. To speak out for freedom is not to endorse a freedom to exploit the weak. Nor is it to speak in ways that intensify existing divisions.

In his Inferno, Dante holds one of the lowest places in hell for those who incite division and polarization. Their punishment is to be “hacked asunder,” to be split open from chin to groin, their throats slit and noses slashed off just as they have divided religions, families and societies. 

St. Paul would not have taken things that far. His antidote for polarization and division is for the community “to do everything for the glory of God” and to give thanks for the grace that God has given to others. The ego is thus removed as the centre of one’s concerns, and each person strives to become attuned to the gifts and needs of others, especially those with whom they are in conflict.

God has given each of us a heart with which to listen. The proverb says, “A cheerful heart is a good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.”

(Argan writes his online column Epiphany at

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