Bishop Glen John Provost
Bishop of Lake Charles
September 7, 2014
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
Lake Charles, Louisiana
23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another.” Romans 13:8
For the Christian, love enjoys primacy. What we often forget is that love is not a feeling. While feelings are very important and feelings are associated with love, love essentially finds its expression in the giving of self. I remember in my childhood the love and devotion shown by my parents for each other. Like all couples, they had their challenges, but when all was said and done, when the end of the day came, the act of love was based on a commitment that came from the assurance of fidelity and the trust that their marital promises had instilled in them. Love requires sacrifice, and sacrifice is not easy. It means the gift of self.
Our second reading today is taken from the letter of St. Paul to the Romans and contains this beautiful verse: “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another” (Romans 13:8). This statement says a great deal, and the context tells us much more.
This teaching—“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another”—finds itself in a larger chapter in which St. Paul exhorts us to be obedient to authority. St. Paul begins, “Let every person be subordinate to the higher authorities, for there is not authority except from God, and those that exist have been established by God” (Romans 13:1). St. Paul is expressing a teaching that became enshrined in Catholic thought. All legitimate authority is rooted in God’s authority. As a matter of fact, no legitimate authority can exist without God’s authority, even when the people who exercise that legitimate authority do not fully acknowledge the origin of their authority.
St. Paul teaches, “[W]hoever resists authority opposes what God has appointed” (Romans 13:2). St. Paul reasons that only those who do evil fear authority. The Christian, on the other hand, in doing good has nothing to fear. “Pay to all their dues,” St. Paul adds, “taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due” (Romans 13:7). In following the law and being a good citizen, you cannot go wrong. The Christian has nothing to fear because perfect love casts out all fear.
It is at this point in his writing that St. Paul associates doing what is right to loving as we should. All the commandments are summarized in one. “’You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Romans 13:9). The law is fulfilled in this commandment of love.
The Christian is to be a good member of the society. The Christian is to contribute to the common good. His life is not to be lived in fear but in the willing fulfillment of the law because the Christian must never give scandal. However, love is more than just avoiding scandal. Love seeks to achieve a good end. It works towards a goal. It cannot be merely a sentiment or a warm expression of good will. The Christian works to make a valuable contribution to the society in which the Christian is a part. And, finally, we must add the state can never require of the Christian to do something which is contrary to the conscience of the Christian. The Christian cannot separate his beliefs from his public life.
“Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another” is more than a personal exhortation. It is a way of living in a society that acknowledges the dignity of the human person. We owe no one anything more than the obligation to love them. We forgive them, but we remain strong in our conviction to the truth. We obey as long as we are not required to perform immoral acts. A Christian is of this mind, that love is more than a feeling. Love requires a gift of self.