Love is a Decision
We live in a country that follows the rule of law. For those of us who follow the law, we realize that laws help us to live in harmony with one another. They are rules that help us to play fairly and well. We just witnessed one of the biggest sporting events in our country with the Super Bowl. The players and the coaches are important, but also the referees who know the rules of the game and try to apply them fairly. Without the refs, what would the Super Bowl look like?
The rules of the game form the structure for play. We can look at divine law as a structure or container for our living the moral life. Some people look at the rules or laws as a limit to personal freedom. That is why we refer to some people as “laws unto themselves”. They do what they want regardless of what anyone else thinks or how others are affected. They think that they are unaccountable. A person who is a law unto himself would find it difficult to sing a hymn of praise to the law like in today’s psalm. You have commanded that your precepts might be diligently kept. Oh, that I might be firm in keeping your statutes.
I can’t quite imagine singing a hymn of praise: “How I love our Constitution! I delight in the Bill of Rights.”
In order to understand the Law in the Scriptures, we have to look at it from a particular perspective.
In the first reading, we read from the book of Sirach. Sirach was a man who lived around 200 BC in Jerusalem. Sirach was a man deeply immersed in the Torah, (the first 5 books of the Bible) so he knew the law and rituals of the Temple.
For Biblical people the law is not in tension with freedom, but is the ground of freedom. God wants us to share His life which is a life of love. Love must be a personal choice otherwise it is not love. Love cannot be coerced. It must be chosen. Remember what I said at the beginning of Mass regarding the rite of Marriage in the Catholic Church. Love is a decision and affirms the principle that love is the ground of freedom. With the hearts and emotions of Valentine’s Day upon us, we have to define “love” properly. To love is to will the good of the other. So that is why we can love an enemy because we will their highest good.
In the Bible, the Law is the means by which God is helping us to make the right choice. It is a kind of a lure which is held out to freedom. If you think of it in terms of “you have to choose this way or you will die,” that is a coercion to freedom. It is not like that at all. Sirach says: If you choose, you can keep the commandments. He has set before you fire and water. The choice is yours. There is a lure so that we might make the right choice because love must be a choice. If you choose to keep the commandments, He will save you.
One of the deepest truths of the spiritual life is present here. God so respects our freedom that he will give us what we choose. If we think of God punishing us for bad choices, this is off the mark, according to Bishop Robert Barron.
In each of my choices, I am choosing the kind of person I am becoming. I am forming my character. So, if I choose, over and over again, the selfish path, I am becoming a selfish person. If you follow a violent path, you become a violent person. If a person follows a corrupt path, you will do bad things, but over time, you will become a corrupt person. If I give in to lust all the time, I will become lustful person. On the other hand, if you and I consistently choose the path of love, we will do good things, we will more importantly become loving persons. If you forgive, you will become a merciful person. If you choose nonviolence, you will become a peaceful person. If you make sacrifices and give to others, you will become a generous person.
Jesus too is inviting us to choose. He is getting at the heart of character formation when He indicates that giving in to anger leads to a pattern that is connected to killing. He invites us to be aware when we are angry and out of harmony with a brother or sister. Jesus advocates for us to choose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation which is the path of love.
The Catholic Church throughout the countries of the world often advocates for just laws based on this law of love that reflects our understanding of who God is and who we are in relationship to one another. We are always pro-life in the totality of the life spectrum. Pro-life as understood in mainstream America does not fully encompass what pro-life means in the fullness of teaching of the Catholic Church. We choose to believe that life begins at conception and that we are wonderfully made in God’s image. We choose to believe that all life has a dignity even those persons who have done evil. We choose as Jesus did to reach out and meet the needs of the poor who are at our doors. The Catholic Church looks at the commandment: you shall not kill which is in the Gospel today. It means we do not advocate killing in the womb through abortion, nor killing as a punishment for a heinous crime through capital punishment, nor do we kill a person who is in tremendous suffering or pain through euthanasia. The Church also advocates for laws that support wanting the good of the least of our brothers and sisters – for welcoming the stranger who is a refugee, for example. This is love, to will the good of the other. These are difficult and divisive issues in our country today, even among Catholics.
The Catholic Church is very clear that what it advocates for comes from the teaching and action of Jesus Himself. There is not enough time to go into the details now, but you can easily find Church teaching and rationale on the internet. A good place to begin is USCCB.org , the website of the United States Catholic Bishops.
We know that even if something becomes a civil law, the enforcement or practice of something changes, but it takes much longer for the human heart to catch up. Civil rights legislation was passed many years ago, and there are many people who still do not treat all people with equality and love. Jesus knew this and that is why he told his followers to look into their own hearts, at their motives. Conversion comes at the level of the heart. You can follow all the commandments, all the rules of the Catholic Church and still be a very bitter angry person, lacking in love and charity.
Let’s realize that we have a choice given to us by God. What great freedom there is in that gift. Let’s also choose to live the law of love in its totality. Or not. The choice is yours.