Paul concludes chapter 13 of his letter to the Romans by making two points that are essential to a virtuous Christian life:
Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery; you shall not kill; you shall not steal; you shall not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this saying, [namely] “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no evil to the neighbor; hence, love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10)
The Bible contains a lot of rules. The Law of Moses had more than 600 rules, and both the gospels and the epistles contain many moral admonishments for disciples. These are the Word of God and cannot be dismissed. The Church is our guide in understanding these laws, and as Jesus told His apostles (and by extension, their successors), “Whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (Matthew 18:18).
Having said that, Jesus is calling us to more than following the rules. He is calling us to a conversion of heart that causes us to turn away from sin, trust in Him, enter into the love He shares with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and radiate that love to everyone we meet. And Paul is reiterating that standard here. Love is the fulfillment of the law. Love, as exemplified by our Lord and Savior, is the guidepost for the morality of all our actions. Love of God and love of neighbor, for these are inextricably connected. If we are falling short in one, we are necessarily falling short in the other. As the apostles point out, we cannot truly love God if we do not love our neighbor; and, contra our modern culture, we cannot truly love our neighbor if we do not love God.
And do this because you know the time; it is the hour now for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand. Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh. (Romans 13:11-14)
Our time on earth is short. We do not know the day or hour of the day when we will see Jesus face-to-face. Let’s stay close to Christ, through daily prayer, Scripture, and most especially the sacraments of the Church, and love God and our neighbor in all things. Let’s throw off the works of darkness and put on the armor of Christ. Paul’s imagery here of light and darkness, of shedding our old clothes to put on the armor of Christ, are a reminder that our conversion cannot be halfway. We cannot have one foot in the Church and one foot in the world. We make our way through this world as pilgrims, detached from the things of this world, seeking to do the will of the One who redeemed us and who sustains us every moment with His love.
Let’s follow the example of Saint Augustine. While brought up in the faith by his mother Saint Monica, Augustine drifted away from Christianity when he moved to the big city of Carthage at age 17. His new friends bragged about their sexual exploits, and soon Augustine would follow their lead. Though he knew it was wrong, he would struggle with sins of impurity for more than decade. He was likewise attracted to heresies prevalent at the time. All that time, his mother prayed for him, and the Lord was patient with him. Augustine moved to Milan and met the bishop, Saint Ambrose, who helped him rediscover his Christian faith. Still he struggled to embrace a life of virtue. “Lord, make me chaste,” was his prayer, “but not yet.” He finally reached a moment of intense turmoil, when he heard a child’s voice calling him repeatedly, “Take up and read.” He flipped open a nearby Bible, and read the first verses he saw, Romans 13:13-14: “Let us then throw off the works of darkness [and] put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves properly as in the day, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and licentiousness, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh.” That did it. Augustine was baptized and became a bishop, a saint, a doctor of the Church.
“The night is advanced, the day is at hand.” (Romans 13:12)
Image: Romans 13:10 (downloaded from dailyverses.net).