March 6, 2002 – Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Lent
Monastery of Makkiyad, Kerala, India
In the Gospel Jesus makes it very clear to his Disciples and to all of us that the greatest of all the commandments is love and that is useless and hypocrite to practice all the little details of the Law if one does not practice charity and, first of all, justice. This, however does not mean that the Law has no importance and that if we practice charity we may forget about the rest of the Law.
The two readings of today's Mass help us to understand the meaning of the Law – both of that of the Old Testament and that of the New Testament. One of the things that comes out very clearly from the first reading, which is from the Book of Deuteronomy, is the relationship between Law and People (or Nation). Law, by its very nature is something addressed to a group, a community, a people or a nation. It is never simply individual. And, therefore, its practice can never be simple an individualistic, isolated compliance to an outside rule. In the Old Testament, God transformed the Jews into a People when He gave to them a Way of Life, customs and practices that expressed their relationship to God, gave them an Identity and a cohesion as a Nation. That Law, give by God shows how close God is to his People. "What great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?"
One of the goal of the Law was also to make sure that the people would not forget God and everything that God had done for them: "Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live", and would transmit that memory to the following generations: "teach them to your children and to your children's children."
That aspect of the Law has been preserved by Jesus in the New Testament. "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them". This is true of the Gospel, obviously, but it is true also of the various legislations, like the Rule of Saint Benedict and the Constitutions of our Order, that are for us a concrete interpretation of the Gospel. The meaning of those Rules is to give us a Way of Life that transform us into a Community an into a Community of Communities that have been gathered by God as place of his presence in this world. By accepting to life according to such a Way of Life, we accept to be formed into a Community, to enter as a Community into a particular relationship to God and to be special signs of His Presence.
This is why, the observance of the Rule is never simply a question of individual practice of regulations. It is a responsibility towards the community and, in a monastic Order (which is a community of communities), it is a responsibility of each community towards the whole Order. This is why we have General Chapters, with "house reports" in which each community conveys its own experience of life and "Regular Visitation" which are a concrete manifestation both of the Pastoral Care of the Whole Order for each community and of the sense of responsibility of each community towards the whole Order.
READING I Dt 4, 1. 5-9
A reading from the book of Deuteronomy
These are the words which Moses spoke to the people: "Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you. Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees as the Lord, my God, has commanded me, that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy. Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, 'This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.' For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
"However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children."
GOSPEL Mt 5, 17-19
+ A reading from the holy gospel according to Matthew
Jesus said to his disciples: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets. I have come, not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. Of this much I assure you: until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the law, not the smallest part of a letter shall be done away with until it all comes true. That is why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands and teaches others to do so shall be called least in the kingdom of God. Whoever fulfills and teaches these commands shall be great in the kingdom of God."