Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
The month of January is dedicated to the Most Holy Name of Jesus: let us reverently pray His Holy Name and make reparation to our good Lord for the many times that His name is spoken with irreverence! This weekend I share with you a reflection on the Virtue of Charity. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“The Virtue of Charity: The essence of charity: The Second Reading of the Holy Mass reminds us of the so-called hymn of Charity, one of the most beautiful of St. Paul’s Letters (1 Cor. 12:31-13:13). Through the Apostle, the Holy Spirit speaks to us today about a relationship between us and our fellow-men; of a kind that is completely unknown in the pagan world since it has an entirely new foundation. This is love for Christ. As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me. (Matt. 25:40) With the help of Grace a Christian discovers God in his neighbor: he knows that we are all children of the same Father and brothers of Jesus Christ. The supernatural virtue of Charity brings us closer to our neighbor in a very meaningful way; it is not mere humanitarianism. Our love is not to be confused with sentimentality or mere good fellowship, nor with that somewhat questionable zeal to help others in order to convince ourselves of our superiority. Rather, it means living in peace with our neighbor, venerating the image of God that is found in each and every man, and doing all we can to get all others in their turn to contemplate that im-age, so that they too may learn how to turn to Christ. (J. Escriva, Friends of God, 230)
Our Lord gave a new and incomparably deeper meaning to love for our neighbor. He established it as the New Commandment and as the sign by which Christians will be known. (cf. John 13:34) Divine Love, as I have loved you, is the measure of the love we must have for other people; it is, therefore, a supernatural Love which God Himself places in our hearts. At the same time it is a deeply human Love, which is enriched and strengthened by Grace.
Charity is not the same as natural sociability, the consciousness of that fraternity that comes from ties of blood, or a feeling of compassion for the victims of misfortune… Nevertheless, the theological virtue of Charity does not exclude legitimate earthly loves; rather it does raise and supernaturalize them. It purifies them and makes them deeper and more stable. The Charity of a Christian usually finds itself expressed in virtues needed for living in harmony with others; in good manners and courtesy, for example, which are then elevated to a higher and definitive order.
Without Charity life lacks its prime and essential ingredient… The most sublime eloquence, and all the good works imaginable would be like the fading reverberation of a booming gong or the clash of cymbals which last scarcely a few moments and then fades away into nothing. Without Charity, the Apostle says, even the most sought-after gifts are of little value. If I have not Love, I am nothing. Many doctors and scribes knew more about God, much more, than the majority of those who accompanied Jesus, about whom it is said that they do not know the law (John 7:49), but all their knowledge was fruitless. They did not understand what was most important - the presence of the Messiah in their midst, and His message of understanding, of respect and of love.
Lack of Charity dulls the intelligence so that it cannot know God and fails to understand the dignity of man. Love sharpens and focuses all our powers. Only Charity - Love of God and of our neighbor for God’s sake - prepares and disposes us to understand God and all that refers to Him, so far as is possible for a finite creature. He who does not Love does not know God, St. John teaches, for God is Love. (1 John 4:8) The virtue of Hope also becomes sterile without Charity, for it is impossible to attain what one does not Love. (St. Augustine, Treatise on Faith, Hope and Charity, 117) All our works are in vain without Charity, even the most skillfully or energetically executed one and those that demand sacrifice. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not Love, I gain nothing. There is no substitute for Charity.
Today, in our prayer, we could ask ourselves how we live this virtue each day. Do we perform little acts of service for the people around us? Do we try to be pleasant? Do we say we are sorry when we hurt people? Do we spread peace and joy around us? Do we help others on their way towards God, or are we, on the contrary, indifferent to them? Do we practice the Works of Mercy by visiting the poor and the sick, so as to live Christian solidarity with those who suffer? Do we care for the needs of the elderly and are we concerned about peo-ple who find themselves on the margin of society? In a word is our normal relationship with God shown in deeds of understanding and in service to the people who are in daily contact with us?
The qualities of this virtue: St. Paul tells us which are the qualities that adorn Charity. First he tells us that Charity is patient with others. In order to do good we have to know how to bear evil, renouncing in advance any signs of annoyance, bad temper or sharp-ness of manner.
Patience denotes great fortitude. Charity will often demand patience if we are to bear with serenity the possible defects, the hostility, the suspicion and the bad humor of people we have to deal with. This virtue will lead us to give to such trifles the importance they really have, and not blow them up out of proportion; it will incline us to wait for the appropriate moment if we need to correct them. Charity will help us to give the answer that will often enable our words to reach the hearts of those who are difficult to get on with so that they can improve. Patience is a great virtue which helps us to live in harmony with others. Through it we can imitate God, who is so long-suffering with our many errors and always slow to anger. (cf. Psalm 145:8) We imitate Jesus, Who, although He was well aware of the malice of the Pharisees, lowered Himself to be like them in order to win them over, just like good doctors who prescribe the best remedies for those who have the more serious illnesses. (St. Cyril, Catena Aurea, vol. VI, p. 46)
Love is kind - that is to say, it is disposed to do good to everyone. Kindness can only find room for itself in a large and generous heart. What is best in ourselves must be for others.
Love is not jealous…Whilst jealousy is saddened by another’s good, Charity rejoices in that same good. Many sins against Charity flow from jealousy - scandal, for example, defamation, pleasure in an-other’s mishaps and chagrin at his good fortune. Often it is jealousy that causes friendships to collapse and fraternal ties to be broken. It is like a cancer that gnaws away at the harmony and peace among men. St. Thomas calls it the mother of hatred.
Charity is not arrogant or rude… Many of the temptations against Charity can be summarized as attitudes of pride towards our neigh-bor. We can only serve others and concern ourselves about them to the extent that we forget about ourselves. Without humility no other virtue can exist, and in particular there can be no Love. In many cases, faults against Charity have been preceded by faults involving vanity and pride, selfishness and a desire to outdo other people. The pride that prevents us from living Charity can manifest itself in many other ways… The proud person’s horizon is terribly limited: it stops at himself. He can see no further than himself, his own qualities, his virtues, his talent. His is a godless horizon. Even other people have no place on this cramped stage: there is no room for them. (S. Canals, Jesus as Friend, p. 52)
Love is not ambitious; it does not insist on getting its own way. Charity does not ask anything for itself. It knows that it Loves Jesus in others, and that is sufficient for it. Not only is it not ambitious with an overriding desire for gain, but it does not even insist on its own way; it seeks Christ.
Love does not rejoice at wrong; it does not compile lists of personal grievances. It endures all things… We should not only ask God to help us find excuses for the speck that may appear in our neighbor’s eye, but we should be sorry about the beam in our own eye, about the many times we have been unfaithful to our God.
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. All things without exception. There is much we can give: Faith, joy, a little word of praise, of affection… We should never expect anything in return. We should not be upset if people do not reciprocate. Love does not insist on having its own way, on those things that, from a human point of view, we might think are owed to us. If we do not seek anything for ourselves we will discover that we have found Jesus.
Charity lasts eternally. Here on earth it is a foretaste and beginning of Heaven: L ove never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away… so Faith, Hope, Love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is Love. (1 Cor. 13:8-13)
These three theological virtues are the most important virtues in the Christian life because they have God as their object and their end. Faith and Hope do not remain in Heaven: Faith there gives way to the beatific vision, Hope to the possession of God. Charity, on the other hand, remains eternally. Here on earth it is already the beginning of Heaven, and Eternal Life will consist of an uninterrupted act of Charity.
(cf. St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, 114, a4)
Make Love your aim (1 Cor. 14:1), St. Paul exhorts us. It is Christ’s greatest gift and His principal commandment. It will be the mark by which men will know that we are disciples of Christ. (cf. John 13:35) It is a virtue which, for better or worse, we put to the test at every moment.
At any time we can relieve necessity, say something pleasant, avoid gossip, give a word of encouragement, let somebody pass before
us, intercede with God for someone in special need, give good advice, smile, help to create a more agreeable atmosphere amongst members of our family or at work, forgive someone, form a more favorable judgment, etc. We can do good or fail to do good; we can even do positive harm to others, and that not only through omission. Charity urges us constantly to show our Love by performing works of service, by prayer
and also by penance.
When we grow in Charity, all our virtues are enriched and strengthened. None of them is a true virtue unless it is permeated with Charity.
You have as much virtue as you have Love, no more. (F. de Osuna, A Spiritual Alphabet, 16, 4) If we have frequent recourse to Our Lady, she will teach us how to Love and how to treat other people, for she is the Teacher of Charity.
So great is Mary’s Love for all mankind that she, too, fulfilled Christ’s words when He affirmed: ‘Greater Love has no man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends’ (John 15:13). (J. Escriva, op. cit., 287) Mary our Mother also gave herself up for
us.” (From In Conversation with God, by Francis Fernandez)
Through the intercession of the Flame of Love of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, the Love the Pure Heart of St. Joseph, St. Michael, and St. Paul, may our good Lord grant us the grace to have true Love for God grow within us each day!
In Christ through Mary,