Bishop of Lake Charles
Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 7, 2008
Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception
"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 can be very important and feelings are associated with love, love essentially finds its expression in the giving of self, yet as humans we are not always open to giving of ourselves. Love, nonetheless, requires this sacrifice of us.
Our second reading today is taken from the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans and contains the beautiful verse, "Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another" (Romans 13:8). This statement says a great deal, but 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 no 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, that 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.
So, St. Paul teaches, "whoever 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.
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 evil. 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.
Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver recently published a book, Render unto Caesar, on this very topic. In speaking of how the Christian cannot separate his beliefs from his public life, he writes, "...any notion of tolerance that tries to reduce faith to a private idiosyncrasy, or a set of opinions that we can indulge at home but need to be quiet about in public, will always fail." He makes the point that this type of nonsense would be like a married man acting as a married man only when at home, but when he is in public, he pretends he is single. He can certainly do that, but he will not stay married for long.
The Archbishop concludes, "...for Catholics, the common good can never mean muting themselves in public debate on foundational issues of human dignity. Christian faith is always personal but never private." In this way can love be truly expressed.