The Responsorial Psalm simplifies the search for happiness: “Blessed is the one who is gracious and lends
to those in need” (Psalm 112).
In Romans 13: 8-10 Paul tells us “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” In other words, we are not obliged to do anything but love, because love of God and neighbor are the great commandments of God.
Paul has just written that we should “be subject to the governing authorities,” but only because “there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” We often obey out of fear of reprisals, but if we do we should “be subject, not only because of wrath but also because of conscience.” We never obey against our conscience out of fear. Christian subjection is always and only to God.
“For the same reason you also pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants…. Pay to all what is due them… revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” But in all this, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another.” For all of the commandments “are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” In simplified form it comes down to graciousness and generosity: “Blessed is the one who is gracious and lends to those in need.”
Paul is really preaching against idolatry, which means something much more radical than kneeling down before images. In Luke 14: 25-33 Jesus calls it idolatry to let anything compete with God’s will in our choices. Using the Jewish form of making contrast by extremes, he says his disciples must “hate” their “father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself…. None of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
Should we all just despair? No. We have to embrace this sincerely as our goal, but we get there little by little. St. Teresa of Avila makes it fairly simple: “The Lord asks of us only two things: love of his Majesty and love of our neighbor.” But “The most certain sign… whether or not we are observing these two laws is whether we observe well the love of neighbor. We cannot [always] know whether or not we love God… but we can know whether we love our neighbor.”1
For starters we can practice being gracious and generous with everyone we deal with: “Blessed is the one who is gracious and lends to those in need.” That will put us on the road.
1 Interior Castle, Fifth dwelling, ch. 3.
Initiative: Be Christ’s steward. Manage prudently the gift of love.