St. Augustine wonderfully summarizes the Gospel in short sentences. “Love and do what you will,” he says to his parishioners when preaching on the First Letter of John. He says something very similar in On Christian Doctrine, where he points out that for the person who has mastered Faith, Hope, and Charity, the Scriptures provide no further use except for teaching others. Of course, he is not the first to make this point. Long before him, St. Paul pointed out, “Love is the fulfillment of the Law” (Rom. 13:10). That’s it. That is the whole of the Christian teaching; we can all go home now.
Ah, but is there a catch? “Love and do what you will” is one of those sentences at which we can all sheepishly nod our heads, but to actually live in accordance with it is decidedly harder. Love in the abstract is an easy notion to get behind. “Love your fellow man” is all well and good unless it means to love your annoying neighbors who have a knack for blasting music as soon as your head hit the pillow. But that’s exactly what it means. Them, and your uncle who insists on bringing up politics in any situation, and the homeless man down the street, and even your enemies. Not only Tom—your freshman year roommate—who totally BC-lookaway’d you across the quad last week, but those who have truly hurt you. Those who could have stretched out a hand, but gave a cold shoulder instead.
“If you only love those who love you, what reward do you then have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” Jesus asks in Mt. 5:46. After you have accomplished that, do what you will. I must say, seeing that principle in this light is significantly less fun.
If it were up to me, I would shorten it a bit. “Do what you will” is so much easier. I even found it on a fortune cookie a few years ago. To be exact, it was: “‘Do what thou wilt’ shall be the whole of the Law.” The problem is, I knew where it was quoted from. It comes from none other than Aleister Crowley—the infamous 20th century Satanist— from The Book of the Law, which he maintained was dictated to him by a demon. Demonic inspiration notwithstanding, this is certainly a great summary of the philosophy of Hell.
But why does God limit us so? The idea that God’s commandments are limitations is a very new perspective in the life of the Church. God is not so much sending us to bed early as much as He is a doctor, putting a cast over a broken bone. The Greek philosophers knew this. Without any reference to the Fall, they saw that there was something deeply broken in humans. They saw the Natural Law as the corrective for this brokenness and rejoiced in it.
I remember having my forearm in a cast. Anyone who has had the same experience will testify to the fact that casts are annoying. A few weeks afterwards, the cast had to be switched so for the first time in about three weeks I had control over my wrist and elbow again. Of course, the first thing I did was try to move them and that’s when the pain kicked in. I had been bemoaning the fact that my wrist and elbow had been immobilized for three weeks, but I almost passed out after one quick rotation of the wrist. At that moment I understood why I needed a cast. In many ways, the problem is that we do not feel the pain when we slip out of our spiritual cast.
God, however, has not merely given us commandments. He took on our flesh and provided us an example of the holy life. He condescended to our weakness so that He might raise us to His strength. He has imbued us with His grace and He has given us His own Flesh and Blood for sustenance. “My yoke is easy and My burden is light,” (Mt. 11:30) He tells us and through His grace He can indeed make it easy to follow Him. May we always accept His call.