3/31/2008

Who, then, is my neighbor? To whom am I bound? Whom must I love?

These are not intelligent questions, and they do not have clear answers. On the contrary any attempt to answer them involves us in endless subtleties, and vagueness, and ultimate confusion. Love knows no classifications. The measure of love that Christ has set for us is beyond measure: we must "be perfect as the heavenly Father is perfect." But what is meant by "perfection" of the heavenly Father? It is impartiality, not in the sense of justice that measures out equally to all, knowing their merits, but in the sense of chesed that knows no classification of good and evil.

We are bound to God in chesed. The power of His mercy has taken hold of us and will not let go of us: therefore we have become foolish. We can no longer love wisely. And because we have emptied ourselves in this folly which He has sent upon us, we can be moved by His unpredictable wisdom, so that we love whom we love and we help whom we help, not according to plans of our own but according to the measure laid down for us in His hidden will, which knows no measure. In this folly, which is the work of His Spirit, we must love especially those who are helpless and who can do nothing for themselves. We must also receive love from them, realizing our own helplessness, and our own inability to fend for ourselves. Chesed had made us as though we were outcasts and sinners. Chesed has numbered us among the aliens and strangers: chesed has not only robbed us of our reason but declassified us along with everyone else, in the sight of God. Thus we have no home, no family, no niche in society, and no recognizable function. Nor do we even appear to be especially charitable, and we cannot pride ourselves on virtue. Chesed had apparently robbed us of all that, for he who lives by the mercy of God alone shall have nothing else to live by, only that mercy. Plenitudo legis est charitas. Mercy fulfills the whole law.

*See, Thomas Merton. Seasons of Celebration. (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1950): 180-181.

**Reprinted with permission by The Merton Institute for Contemplative Living.

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