Love without Obligation

I hate being told what to do.  And I hate when others do what they think they are obligated to do without meaning what they do.

In Philemon, Paul asks for the release of a slave, Onesimus.  But he does not order it.  He urges it out of love.

Therefore, although I have the full right in Christ to order you to do what is proper, I rather urge you out of love, being as I am, Paul, an old man, and now also a prisoner for Christ Jesus.  I urge you on behalf of my child Onesimus, whose father I have become in my imprisonment, who was once useless to you but is now useful to [both] you and me.  I am sending him, that is, my own heart, back to you.  I should have liked to retain him for myself, so that he might serve me on your behalf in my imprisonment for the gospel, but I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that the good you do might not be forced but voluntary.  Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.  So if you regard me as a partner, welcome him as you would me. And if he has done you any injustice or owes you anything, charge it to me.

Philemon 1:8-18

This passage is powerful.  In it, Paul urges the slave’s master to forgive the slave who has run away (and perhaps committed another crime against the master).  To welcome him back with love.  To release him.  And in releasing him, releasing the master himself.

Paul refuses to order the master to accept him back and refuses to keep the slave away because doing either would prevent the master from having the opportunity to respond with love.  Paul recognizes that you cannot force love.  You cannot order love.  Love must be chosen willingly.  Forgiveness must be chosen willingly.  The good you do must not be forced but voluntary.   Paul is offering the master the opportunity to free the slave from any past debt or wrongdoing, and at the same time freeing the master to love and be loved.  Paul suggests that the “bad” that the slave did (running away) will bring about good: “Perhaps this is why he was away from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a brother, beloved especially to me, but even more so to you, as a man and in the Lord.”

We all have slaves in our lives.  People who we have imprisoned or condemned in our own minds.  People who have made us slaves to our own anger and ill will.  Paul urges us to release these slaves.  To welcome them with love.  Not because of some obligation but out of a voluntary choice to love.  Out of a choice to follow God’s greatest commandment.  We all meet people everyday who seem useless to us.  But Paul reminds us that each of them is an opportunity.  An opportunity to choose love.  An opportunity to share God’s love, so that they (and we) can be useful.  After all, Onesimus is just one of us.


You call us to love, not just to do good out of obligation.  Help me to release those who I have imprisoned in my thoughts and words.  Open my heart to the true love that you call us to share.  Open my heart to forgiveness.  Help me to share your love every day with every one that I encounter.

Light will break the darkness

Life is hard.  Pain and suffering surrounds us.  It is impossible to avoid.  In Ephesians, Paul provides us with Rules for the New Life:

Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth, each one to his neighbor, for we are members one of another.

Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun set on your anger, and do not leave room for the devil.

The thief must no longer steal, but rather labor, doing honest work with his [own] hands, so that he may have something to share with one in need.

No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.

And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption.

All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice.

[And] be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.

Ephesians 4:25-32

These are not easy rules.  But even in these rules, there is recognition that we will be angry.  Life sometimes stinks.  We will be angry.  But Paul warns do not let the sun set on your anger, do not leave room for the devil.  Be angry.  But reconcile with God.  Don’t go to bed angry.  Anger creates weakness; it creates cracks for the devil to infiltrate.  Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit.  We are sealed with God’s Spirit.  We cannot rid ourselves of Him, no matter how hard we may sometimes try.

So be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and handed himself over for us as a sacrificial offering to God for a fragrant aroma.  Immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be mentioned among you, as is fitting among holy ones, no obscenity or silly or suggestive talk, which is out of place, but instead, thanksgiving.  Be sure of this, that no immoral or impure or greedy person, that is, an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

Let no one deceive you with empty arguments, for because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the disobedient.  So do not be associated with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth.  Try to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.  Take no part in the fruitless works of darkness; rather expose them, or it is shameful even to mention the things done by them in secret; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore, it says:

“Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light.”

Ephesians 5:1-14

We have all been darkness.  We have all been in darkness.  God calls us to the light.  This life is temporary.  We have a short time to live and love on earth.  We have a short time to fight off the devil and the pain and suffering that exploits our weakness.  This will pass.  Love.  Be thankful.  Expose the darkness — do not hide it away.  Be angry, but do not dwell on the anger.  Bring it back to God.  Live in the light — God’s light.  Jesus has conquered death — we just have to conquer this short life on earth.


I do not always understand your ways.  I am sometimes quick to anger.  Forgive me for my weakness.  Forgive me for my doubt when things do not go my way.  I want to live in your light.  I want to live like Christ.  Help me to love more freely.  Help me to reconcile with you when I fail.  It is easy to have faith when things go well.  Keep my faith strong when things go wrong.


Conversion and penance

Conversion and penance are just as important today as they were in St. Paul’s time.  Tonight the Bible opened to Acts and Paul’s speech at his trial:

But now I am standing trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our ancestors.  Our twelve tribes hope to attain to that promise as they fervently worship God day and night; and on account of this hope I am accused by Jews, O king.  Why is it thought unbelievable among you that God raises the dead?  I myself once thought that I had to do many things against the name of Jesus the Nazorean, and I did so in Jerusalem. I imprisoned many of the holy ones with the authorization I received from the chief priests, and when they were to be put to death I cast my vote against them.  Many times, in synagogue after synagogue, I punished them in an attempt to force them to blaspheme; I was so enraged against them that I pursued them even to foreign cities.

“On one such occasion I was traveling to Damascus with the authorization and commission of the chief priests.  At midday, along the way, O king, I saw a light from the sky, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my traveling companions.  We all fell to the ground and I heard a voice saying to me in Hebrew, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?  It is hard for you to kick against the goad.’  And I said, ‘Who are you, sir?’ And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.  Get up now, and stand on your feet.  I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness of what you have seen [of me] and what you will be shown.  I shall deliver you from this people and from the Gentiles to whom I send you, to open their eyes that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may obtain forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been consecrated by faith in me.’

“And so, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.  On the contrary, first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem and throughout the whole country of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached the need to repent and turn to God, and to do works giving evidence of repentance.  That is why the Jews seized me [when I was] in the temple and tried to kill me.  But I have enjoyed God’s help to this very day, and so I stand here testifying to small and great alike, saying nothing different from what the prophets and Moses foretold, that the Messiah must suffer and that, as the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

Acts 26:6-23

I am struck by how similar Paul’s story and the message he received from Jesus are to the revelation from Our Lady of Fatima 100 years ago.  The children at Fatima heard messages of conversion and penance and like Paul spread that message to others.  You can read more about that here:

Paul saw the light, literally.  Since I was a child, I have been jealous of Paul because he was shown the light and heard Jesus.  (Of course, when I read about his time in prison and his persecution, I get less jealous and more grateful that I am not similarly challenged — and as soon as I type that I am struck by how weak I am.  Am I only willing to  see God if it is easy?  I hope I am stronger than that, but my initial reaction and thoughts seem to indicate otherwise.)

Dear God,

Open my eyes!  Provide me with your light and help me to share it with others.  Give me the strength to convert fully.

God, I am sorry for my sins.  I want to do penance — please show me how.  Help me to truly repent for the wrongs that I cause.  Help me to sin no more.