Last Sunday, we were given a new commandment to live by. It is the commandment that makes all other laws and regulations needless and obsolete.
Love one another. As I have loved you so you also should love one another.
St. Augustine, commenting on this commandment, summarizes Christian life as simply this: ama ac fac quod vis. Love and do as you wish. If we take this suggestion the way the world recommends we take it, we would be driven by lust (masqueraded as love) to become promiscuous, bent on satisfying our instincts without accountability or consideration for other people and their feelings. However, if we live by St. Augustine’s suggestion as one driven by the new commandment of Christ we would have to be totally free so as to be able to love others the way Christ did, i.e., all the way to giving our very life out of love.
I am saying all this so as to be quite clear that, basically, Christ’s new commandment and the ways of the world are on opposite sides.
We have here a clear distinction between permissiveness and genuine freedom. Permissiveness, (doing as one pleases) is a subtle but devastating form of slavery. Those motivated by permissiveness are slaves of their own appetites and selfish drives. On the contrary, only those who are free or in full control of their appetites and selfish drives can give of themselves to others in sacrificial love. So love and do as you wish can only lead believers to become totally free, totally loving, totally generous with their self-giving.
When it comes to freedom, believers can be divided in three groups. First, we have those who struggle between permissiveness and generous freedom. Second, we have those who are totally free and bear the fruits of the Spirit. And third, we have those who refuse to be free and are caught in the trap of legalism.
The latter are those who are so worried about minutiae, are so shackled by small, minor laws and regulations that they do not have enough energies left to live according to the new commandment. They cannot love and do as they wish but only waste their energies in the sterile and futile attempts to observe all laws that they deem vital. St. Paul has a blistering condemnation of these people who appear very pious but are spiritually sterile and incapable of loving the way Christ did.
The letter of the law kills. (2 Cor. 3:6).
If you have time, you can read the incident described in the Acts of the Apostles (15:1-2, 22-29) and then, the Letter to the Galatians, so that you may see how St. Paul spent a great deal of energy and time to convince believers to steer clear of these people shackled by sterile legalism.
With the best intentions in mind they were “killing” themselves spiritually, needlessly troubling others and stifling the community spirit by replacing the new commandment with something as obsolete as circumcision. Actually, they were making the obsolete law of circumcision the condition for salvation. Unless you are circumcised according to the Mosaic Law, you cannot be saved: Totally absurd.
So, I hope that we do not fall into the deadly trap of legalism. It would be so detrimental for us and our parish communities. We would be sterile, constantly troubled and restless, because we would be focusing on what is marginal and make it essential. We would become rigid, judgmental of all others who are freer, and do not submit to live by our misguided convictions.
Legalism being ruled out absolutely, we should be left with the other two choices: (1) to struggle between what the world proposes (permissiveness) and the freedom of God’s children. We would go back and forth between the two: loving some, following the ways of the world some. We would be falling into the same sins time and again, observing some laws, breaking others. We would basically lead a life of lukewarmness.
Or, (2) we would choose the way of total freedom so as to be able to implement the new commandment as best we can with the help of the Holy Spirit. In this case we would be heeding what Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John (14:23-29): Whoever loves me will keep my Word (the new commandment) and my Father will love him/her, and we will come to him/her and make our dwelling with him/her.
Ama ac fac quod vis: love and do as you wish.
If we keep Jesus’ new commandment (his Word) we will have the Holy Trinity dwelling in us. We would be totally free and totally brimming over with love. It would be impossible for us to wish anything but loving the way Jesus loved us.
And that, my friends, is heaven!