Saturday, March 14, 2015

False Dichotomy, or So is that why they're called "in-laws"?

It is easy to think that the law is the opposite of love.  The law is unyielding, impersonal, and irrespective of any circumstance.  Love is human, personal, and particular.  It is easy to figure out which one we like better, and which we want more of.
I am inclined to agree, so I cannot get my head around how the Israelites loved their Law, the Commandments God gave them: And what great nation is there, that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law? (Dt 4:8)  But that is so old school... so Old Testament, even.  Love is the measure of all things now, and even Jesus himself would endorse that, right? 
Of course Jesus did say, Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  (Mt 5:17-18) 
To love is to choose freely the good of the other, and the highest love is to choose to relinquish every good for oneself in order to sustain the good of the other.  Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.  (John 15:13)     In order to be able to choose the good, in order to be able to love, freedom is required.
There is then a prerequisite for love, a “condition for the possibility” as we say, or a sine qua non – “without which not.”  The sine qua non of love is freedom.  Coercion, privation, deception, and manipulation cannot bring about love; on the contrary - they mitigate against love. 
What, then, makes freedom possible? Our practical experience as a nation seconds what we have been taught by the revelation of God: Law is the precondition for freedom.  Think about it first in civic terms – think about the freedom of citizens being achieved by the law, and the absence of law undermining citizens’ freedom.  Then realize how the absence of civic freedom would reduce the possibility of social love, a society of neighborly charity; not to mention personal acts of love.  Believe it or not, law is the sine qua non of love. 
From that civic scenario, make the leap to the love revealed and offered in Christ, and you begin to understand not only why Jesus asserted that he came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it; but you also begin to realize why God first gave the Law in working His will for the salvation of man, and then sent His Son, the God who is Love incarnate, in the flesh.
God’s Law orders our lives before it orders society; it orders our deeds and words to God and our neighbor, the practical steps essential to love, the work that love does.  This fabric of thought, word, and deed is the precondition of authentic love of God and of neighbor.  Just as in our blessed nation, the law is the shaper and guarantor of our freedom, so is God’s Law of the Commandments the shaper and guarantor of our freedom.  It is foolish to think that we can love God without obeying His Law.  The Law, and our observance of it, set our feet on the path to love.
The two types of law diverge where they are broken.  Break a civil law, and pay the consequences – privation or punishment. A government that fails to enforce the law, fails to protect freedom, and thereby fails to govern.  But break the Law of God, sin against Him or our neighbor, and God reaches out to us for reconciliation, offering His Son to pay the price.  This highest love we can receive only by recognizing and repenting of our disobedience.
What’s law got to do, got to do with it? to paraphrase the old Tina Turner song.  Without the Law, we would never know how to love, much less be able to love.  The law is not the opposite of love, but what makes it possible -- for a society, and for a soul.

Monsignor Smith

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