Love Goes Beyond Rules

Nobody likes rules, which seem like arbitrary directives instituted by people in power to control our lives. More appealing is St. Augustine’s often repeated adage: “Love and do what you want.” In fact, if you truly love then you don’t need rules or commandments, love itself will suffice.

Think about it: does a newlywed bride need rules? Suppose a newlywed asked you for advice: “How far can I go with my boss before I would be unfaithful to my beloved husband? Would I be unfaithful by letting my boss take me out to lunch? Can I let him hold my hand or give me a kiss? How far is too far… what are the rules of fidelity?” Were a newlywed to ask such questions, would you think she was truly in love? Of course not! Someone in love doesn’t need rules about how far she can go before hurting the other or being unfaithful, but is focused on pleasing her beloved with positive deeds.

Rules and commandments exist just to point out when we have lost the correct focus of love. If we lust over another, lie or steal then our love clearly has fallen short, hurting our relationship or keeping our love from reaching what it should: God and all his beloved children. In saying, “love and do what you want,” St. Augustine is not denying the need to follow God’s Commandments but affirming that true love naturally fulfills them all. As our Lord says:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40).

By loving God totally and your neighbor as yourself you fulfill the Ten Commandments, the Beatitudes… and everything else.

At the Last Supper Jesus raises love even higher: “I give to you a new commandment, Love one another even as I have loved you” (John 13:34), which he does “by laying down his life for his friends” (John 15:13), calling us to “lay down our life for the brethren” (1 John 3:1). That’s the New Commandment of Love, which truly summarizes Christian morality in the Commandments and Beatitudes. While such love takes effort, St. Paul reminds us how it is the greatest spiritual gift:

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but don’t have love, I am a noisy gong, a clanging cymbal. If I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have the faith to move mountains but don’t have love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)

Unpacking these words of St. Paul shall expose the true meaning of God’s law of love.

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Father John Waiss is the pastor of St. Mary of the Angels Church in Chicago, Illinois. He is also a member of Opus Dei, the prelature founded by St. Josemaria Escriva.