Charity and our human laws

By Fr. Roy Cimagala

WHEN Christ told the crowd that their righteousness should surpass that of the scribes and Pharisees if they want to enter the kingdom of heaven, (cfr. Mt 5,17-37) he is actually telling us that we should be wary of our tendency to make and observe our laws that are based only on some human criteria.

“You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment,’” he said. “But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to brother “Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna…”

While we will always have to use some human criteria in making and observing our laws, we should also see to it that it is charity, the charity that comes from God, that should always be the animating spirit when we make laws and especially when we apply and observe them.

And that’s because it is this charity that treats us in the most proper and wholistic way. It knows how to deal with any situation, condition and circumstance in our life, whether considered good or bad, humanly speaking. Charity knows how to blend justice with mercy, truth with compassion and patience.

That is why, Christ gave us as the new commandment that perfects all the other commandments. And that is that we should love one another as he himself has loved us. (cfr. Jn 13,34) And he loved us all the way by offering his life on the cross, as a way of bearing all our sins so that our salvation can be attained. He even offered forgiveness to those who crucified him.

That is the kind of charity that we should also live and give to one another. It does not do away with justice. Rather it purifies and perfects our justice, ridding it of its mainly retributive and punitive character, and always promoting its distributive, procedural and restorative character.

It is with this kind of charity that often may ask us to go beyond but not against our human laws. That’s because our human laws cannot fully capture all the conditions of human life. Neither can they fully fathom the ultimate identity and dignity of man. That’s why in the end we have to defer everything to God. It’s he who makes the last and final judgment.

This definitely is not easy to do. But we can always try. The important thing is that we are aware of the need for charity as we make and observe our human laws. Our laws should be continually updated and refined, so that they channel more and more the charity that comes from God. Especially during these times when rapid developments are occurring, there is a great need for our human laws to reflect more the charity of God.

Thus, in making and observing our laws, we cannot and should not ignore the necessity to refer ourselves and our laws to God. We should not just depend on some ideologies and philosophies, on traditional juridical systems, etc. While they will always have something valid to contribute, they will always need the living spirit of God’s charity to animate them.

It is this charity, as St. Paul said, that delights not in evil but rather rejoices with the truth. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Cor 13,6)