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January 1977

Owe no-one anything, except to love one another. (Rom. 13:8)

When we say, 'It's none of my business what happens to them,' or 'Why should I care?' or 'Look after it yourself,' then we are normally behaving as pagans, and not as Christians. We, who want to follow Christ, are well aware that the Christian attitude is the opposite of this because all of us have a responsibility to all others.

This Word of Life re-emphasises that to be Christian means belonging to a community in which the relationship to each other is one of mutual love and the same spirit must inform our attitude to all men. As soon as we try to live this Word, we realise it.

One realisation is that although there is a fair and genuine debt of justice to others in many aspects of our life, yet the only adequate attitude for us is to have no debt of justice but only this debt of mutual love as St. Paul outlines. For instance at work it is just that we gain a fair day's wage for what we do., but in time of need love is prepared to help without any wages. In our married life justice demands that our partner treats us humanly and with respect, and if this is not the case over a long period of time then we may think we are within our rights to find some substitute or even break our bond in some way. But love says that even when we are not respected we will go on loving the other. There are many other examples that could be taken but in short the point is clear. We can't measure out our own 'patch' and operate within that, like in a production line, when we are considering our lives as a whole and the way we live. Rules, regulations and limits are absolutely necessary for orderly society but they cannot be the limit of our lives which demand an infinite standard, that of love, which alone will enable us to enjoy a full life. We cannot limit ourselves to our immediate circle even, but have to be concerned with all people and especially with those suffering injustice and the poor if we want to be Christians.

Another realisation is that our love must go much deeper than our immediate feelings and whims of the moment, even if these can be temporarily all embracing in the sense of suffocating us. In other words living the Word makes us mature and it is this very often that, we need to solve problems that otherwise may destroy our lives. For instance shallow but strong emotional relationships which we say contain nothing 'harmful' can become snares and delusions that take us away from God's will for us, be we married, un-married or celibate. Also so many people have drifted into their state of life never going beyond this into making a mature and deliberate choice of their lot and situation. It isn't hard for such people's lives to fall apart.

What St. Paul means of course is that the relationship of mutual love which we Christians have goes far beyond the limits of justice and is not at all superficial, for it means that we are willing to lay down our lives for the other. It means above all that we are faithful to an interior attitude, that of continuous self giving towards each other. whoever our neighbour happens to be. This way seems to lead to a denial of our self, often a dying to self, but we know that it is this love that our lives are longing for, completely satisfying and full of life and fulfilment because it alone is worthy of the infinite capacity of our souls.

Living the gospel is something concrete and simple to put into practice, and it has definite and clear effects. Maybe of greatest value, it throws light onto our lives, giving us wisdom and understanding of many things which before we lived in this way were puzzling and obscure. We will see how hard it is to love and will become aware of our own weakness. But this will enable us to find the real strength of unity which is God himself, the life of the Trinity, and we will learn the strength of humility which enables us to expect help and find it from others. We will realise how much there is to be done, first and foremost in ourselves, but then necessarily in our own environment and indeed in society all over the world. For the structures within which we live need to be informed with this Spirit of Love, and our responsibility for all our fellow men and especially the weak and the poor has to be exercised by us.

Perseverance to the end along this line in unity with the Church and others who want to live in the same way will lead to all our problems finding an answer. Our lives too will find a fullness of meaning, but most important of all we will be responding to God's will, one with him and each other.

Jonathan Cotton, O.S.B.


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