SCRIPTURE READINGS: [  GAL 5:1-6; LK 11:37-41 ]“When Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free.  Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.”  Yes, Christ has come to set us free. What is the nature of this freedom?  Firstly, it is freedom from the law and secondly, freedom from sin.

Why must we be set free from the Laws?  This is because, as St Paul argued, “if you do look to the Law to make you justified, then you have separated yourselves from Christ, and have fallen from grace.  Christians are told by the Spirit to look to faith for, since in Christ Jesus whether you are circumcised or not makes no difference.”

The Laws cannot justify us before God.  Obedience to the Law will make us legalistic, proud and judgmental like the scribes and the Pharisees.  Salvation is then no longer attributable to the grace of God and His goodness but merited by our actions.  If salvation is a result of our own strength, there is no necessity for Christ to die in order to save us.  At any rate, if observance of the laws is the ticket to heaven, then it would make us resentful of God in our hearts.  Even if we are not, we will fall into the greatest sin, which is that of pride, and a false independence from God.

A legalistic observance of rules and rituals does not change the heart of pride and fear to a heart of freedom and love.  When we are more concerned about carrying out the laws than changing lives and empowering people, we have missed the end for the means.  To put greater emphasis on the laws than how they affect the lives of people is as good as idolatry, for then we make the laws our god. This was what Jesus meant when He reprimanded the Pharisees for reducing the observance of the Covenant merely to the letter of the Law rather than the spirit.  They were religiously meticulous in fulfilling the customary ablutions before meals rather than the ablution of their hearts.  What they needed to purify was the sinfulness in their lives, especially pride, arrogance, judgmentalism and sins against charity, namely injustice and the lack of compassion. Truly, for those of us who pride ourselves as “good” Catholics or Christians, we must examine whether we have the fruits of the Spirit in our lives.  We might be religious in our Christian duties but do we have a heart of purity in love and compassion for our fellow brothers and sisters, especially those who are not so lovable.

Conversely there are those who live under bondage of sin in the flesh, and are unable to overcome their self-indulgence.  St Paul himself, being a former Pharisee and Rabbi, understood that the Law did not set him free but on the contrary caused him to sin even more.  Instead of doing what the Law required, he did just the opposite.  Indeed, who is not a sinner?  Who can always act justly, walk humbly, love tenderly without the grace of God?   Just knowing the Law without the help of grace will only serve to drive those of us who are powerless against sin, especially sins of the flesh, temptation to greed, power and pleasure, to fall into despair, like Judas.  It makes us want to give up trying to be good because no matter how much we try, we fail.

Only the grace of God, His unconditional love and mercy, can help us overcome our helplessness. It is love that is the real power, not the Law.  Obedience, unless given out of love for God, cannot set us free.  Without love in our hearts, we will not be capable of loving freely and unconditionally.  Either way, we find ourselves so wretched.  Wasn’t that the same feeling of St Paul when in Romans, he exclaimed, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.” (Rom 7:24f)

So faith in Jesus as the love of God in person, and in the mercy of God demonstrated at His death on the cross, is what sets us free to love freely and totally.  St Paul puts this truth succinctly when he wrote, “what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love.”  True fulfillment of the Law is when we submit in faith to Christ who is the power and wisdom of God’s love, especially in His death on the cross.  Indeed, laws and sin are overcome when there is love. Yes, “what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love.”

It does not mean that laws are not needed.  Although we are not saved by the Laws, the Church still has moral laws, disciplinary rules and rituals to help us to fulfill the one Law of love. Such laws spell out exactly the demands of charity towards God and our neighbor.  So love helps us to keep the laws, since the laws are good.  Love makes us give up sin.  In this way, laws are not means to buy the love of God but to express one’s love for Him.  They are guidelines rather than strict application without considering the peculiar circumstances that at times might require us to break the law in order to keep the spirit.

The crux of the problem is, do we truly believe that He loves us?  If we have faith in His love, then we will have the power to love.   But do we?  Can we truly say with St Paul, that God loves each one of us individually, personally and as a community of faith unconditionally, totally and always?  More often than not, we don’t.  Even so called “good and active” Catholics would baulk at the suggestion that they have not truly experienced His love.  Most THINK they have, but deep within them, they know that they have not.  It would be too embarrassing to admit otherwise, since we are good and faithful Catholics who go to church regularly, are involved in organizations, committees, charity works, etc.

And even if we have experienced it, have we already forgotten His love and mercy, like the Galatians, and have returned to the laws again?  This is pertinent to those active in Church or faithful to the requirements of the Church and the gospel.  Are we serving the Church more out of duty, or a commitment that we have made, and so seek to keep it because of pride or out of love?  If we are serving in love and for love, then why is it that we are so calculative with our time and resources in the organizations we are in?  Why are we minimalists in the way we render our services to the Church, or any charitable organization we are involved in?  When we do the minimum and become more concerned as to whether we have fulfilled the laws, then this is the same sin that caused St Paul to censure the Galatians.

How then do we renew this love?  St Paul said, “Christians are told by the Spirit to look to faith for, since in Christ Jesus whether you are circumcised or not makes no difference – what matters is faith that makes its power felt through love.”  Let us turn to the Holy Spirit then to renew our faith in Jesus’ love and mercy for us so that this merciful love of Christ that we experience every day will empower us to love and give more of ourselves to Him and to His people.  Let me reiterate “every day” because we sin every day.  But we should not be focusing on our sins but His mercy, though we should certainly reflect on them so that we will appreciate His love and mercy even more.

Let the prayer of the psalmist be ours when he prayed, “Let your mercy come to me, O Lord, your salvation according to your promise. Let your mercy come to me, O Lord. And I will keep your law continually, forever and ever. And I will walk at liberty, because I seek your precepts. And I will delight in your commands, which I love. And I will lift up my hands to your commands and meditate on your statutes. Let your mercy come to me, O Lord.”

Written by The Most Rev William Goh Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore