Recently, someone asked me how I would define "religion." Considering the reputation of organized religion in today's increasingly secular world, I thought about it for a few minutes.

I responded that religion is duty to God, duty to others and duty to oneself. The questioner was surprised at my relatively straightforward response, but also confused: What did I mean by duty?

Duty, I said, means giving what is just and appropriate to a situation or to a person. What, then, are our duties? What do we owe to a God that we cannot necessarily see or personally interact with? What do we legitimately owe to others when the concept of "rights" has become so controversial in today's world? Perhaps equally important, what do we owe ourselves?

First and foremost, we owe God our love, honor and obedience. The latter concept is becoming increasingly foreign to our society. How do we show obedience to God? We show it in our treatment of one another and ourselves.

We owe others a duty to respect their bodily integrity, their characters and their minds -- hence the reason that we prohibit assault, whether on one's body or on one's character.

More positively, we show it by our devotion to serving others, whether our families, friends or strangers. Sometimes this means giving up something: time, talent or treasure.

Ironically, we show the same form of duty to ourselves by respecting and living our own integrity. One way we can do this is to not only check our own conduct regularly, but to also avoid situations that we know or reasonably suspect can only lead to trouble.

Another efficacious way that we show a duty to ourselves is to avail ourselves of the assistance that the Church offers us. The sacrament of reconciliation and regular Mass attendance (including holy days of obligation) are ways that we can act on our duty to God and to ourselves.

While Jesus correctly summed up love as the fulfillment of the law, duty is how we can live out that love in our own lives. That is the true meaning of religion.

(Mr. Gustin attends St. Michael the Archangel parish in Troy.)