It is important to understand that when St. Paul wrote any of his letters, he never wrote in chapters. These were added centuries later when the canon of the Bible was being arranged. So, he never wrote Chapter 1 one day and then chapter 2 the next et cetera. Therefore, when you read the letters, you can read each one as a whole, just as when you read the letters of anyone else.
Fr. Paulo Ricardo Azevedo, Jr in a talk recently given to Canção Nova in Brazil, gave a powerful teaching on the chapters before and after the one that is our second reading today. I will draw extensively on those talks for this homily.
If there are any three chapters that are most misunderstood in the Paul’s letters, they are 1 Corinthians 12, 13 and 14. I believe two chapters, 12 and 14, scare many in the Church in the United States, including in our hierarchy. They don’t scare anyone in countries like Brazil, but in the United States they scare people, including bishops, unnecessarily.
These are the chapters that deal with the charisms and theological virtues. The charisms we see most recently in the Charismatic renewal, which also scares many people in our Church in this country including the hierarchy and is greatly misunderstood. Unfortunately, because it is misunderstood, our leaders have not provided much leadership for it.
Fr. Paulo Ricardo teaches that you need to understand chapters 12 and 14 to understand our second reading today.
You, I am sure, have heard of the Charismatic gifts and the movement. What is most famous is what is known as the gift of tongues in which people pray to God in a language they do not understand nor can control except for “turning it on and off”. In a culture that gets greatly offended by people who speak another language in front of them, obviously the concept of people speaking a language without understanding it scares them.
But these charisms are explained throughout the history of the Church including in the Catechism of Trent and the Catechism of the Catholic Church written after Vatican II. They are bestowed on people by the Holy Spirit and are there to help build up the Church.
By the way, the charisms give absolutely no indication of the holiness of those who possess them, none. Pope St. John Paul II also says that those who possess them must not take them as an indication of any form of authority in the church and must submit to those in the Church appointed for discerning their authenticity and usefulness.
Chapter 14 of 1 Corinthians teaches the priority of the gifts from most important to least important. However, all are there to help the faithful build up the Church and her people.
Paul calls all people to seek eagerly these charisms, which we must remember are bestowed on people by the will and pleasure of the Holy Spirit. You cannot earn them, you cannot study for them, you can only ask for them.
The list in 1 Corinthians 12 is not an exhaustive list. For example, both St. Pio of Pietrelcina (aka Padre Pio) and St. John Vianney both had the charism of reading souls. So, if someone confessed to them and the penitent held a sin back, they would tell the person that he or she had another sin to confess.
What does this all have to do with the chapter in the middle which is today’s second reading? Everything, and this is also what Fr. Paulo Ricardo Azevedo teaches. Remember there were no chapters in the original document so that whole section is a continuation of thought. If we must understand that the charisms come from God and they cannot be received outside of the action of the Holy Spirit, then the same must also be said for the theological virtues in chapter 13. They too are bestowed on us through the action of the Holy Spirit, but in this case, we grow in them in co-operation with the Holy Spirit. Nothing is more important than these virtues especially love. Nothing. That is because in the end there is nothing but love, for God is love.
Everything else we do for the Lord, whether it is natural or supernatural if it is not done in light of the theological virtues of love at best is a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal. The best example of that is all the so-called Catholic experts on the internet. Some of them on the right and the left are some of the nastiest communicators on the planet. They may also be correct, but they speak without love and are nothing but noisy gongs, at best.
If my preaching is a fascinating bunch of facts but it is not done in prayer and in co-operation with the Holy Spirit and in light of the theological virtues, it may impress you, but it is still nothing more than a noisy gong and a clanging cymbal.
In fact, Pope Benedict XV in 1917 wrote:
But the grace of God is not gained by study and practice: it is won by prayer. Therefore, he who is little given to prayer or neglects it altogether, vainly spends his time and labor in preaching, for in God’s sight his sermons profit neither himself nor those who hear him.
-Humanis Generis Redemptionem
Therefore, it is essential that we understand, that it is our duty to pursue the graces through a deep prayer life so that we may love to the level to which Christ calls. That love can only be found when we recognize that is our most urgent command. Nothing is as important and by pursuing those virtues we come to be, as the end of the reading indicates, more able to see and know God for we will be more like him, for God is love.
That means by the way that the most difficult people to love in your life are those whom God uses to help you to love because if you can love them, you can love anyone, and our mandate is to love to that level.
 John Paul II. (1988). Christifideles Laici. Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana.