Father Roberto Cano, FSSP
So there abide faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1 Cor. XIII, 13
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost Amen.
On this Quinquagesima Sunday, the last Sunday before the season of Lent, Holy Mother Church makes a final attempt to orient our minds and hearts to the true meaning of this holy season. In the Gospel of today’s Mass, we hear the first reference of Our Lord’s Passion which He is to suffer for our Redemption and the promise of His subsequent Resurrection. And in the epistle, St. Paul admonishes the Corinthians to follow the Lord’s command to abide in charity. We see then, both in the epistle and the Gospel, that the Church is calling us to practice more fervently the supernatural virtue of charity, but also to meditate upon the Passion and Death of Our Lord, Who bore innumerable sufferings for infinite love of us, His sinful creatures. The Church through the sacred text is teaching us that Lent is primarily a season in which we should grow in the love of God and our neighbor and to come to a greater appreciation of the Supreme Sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. The One, True religion of God, the Catholic religion is founded upon the two-fold precept of love of God and love of neighbor; it is fitting, therefore, to consider what this virtue truly is and its importance for us as Roman Catholics.
There is no denying that in the past thirty to forty years in the Church, there has been a collapse of catechesis, that is, of proper formation and instruction in the Catholic faith. To such a degree that classes of CCD, have come to be known solely as classes of cutting, coloring and drawing. Burlap banners, banal songs, and a loss of the sense of sin have become the hallmark of these programs of so called Catholic education. All under the mantra that, “God is love.” These mislead souls would want us to believe that because God is love, it is therefore, possible for a man to live a life of sin and debauchery and still be pleasing to Almighty God. But this type of ideology or better yet false theology is both absurd and impossible! For the infinitely Good God can have nothing to do with that which is evil, because it is necessarily opposed to Him, Who as God is necessarily good. It is necessary, then, to first speak about what true Christian charity is not in order to have a right estimation what it actually is.
First and foremost, Christian charity is not merely goodwill. Although goodwill is important and the condition and the beginning of friendship, Christian charity is much more than just being “nice” to other people especially if we are only nice to those who are also nice to us. For Our Blessed Lord said, “For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans this? And if you salute your brethren only, what do you more? Do not also the heathen this?” (Matt. V, 46-47). We cannot fail to forget that the principal act of charity is to love and not so much to be loved. However, our fallen human nature tends to seek to love only those who love us, but as Our Lord says where is the merit in this type of love? True Christian charity seeks union even with our enemies, since charity seeks unity with God for both our selves and our enemies in Heaven. To be clear, then, charity is more than affability (while this is important) even the most pagan of men can be pleasant with his neighbor when he wishes to do so, but this does not require the supernatural virtue of charity. Secondly, charity is not mere social work or humanitarian efforts of relief. Although it is true that a charitable man will manifest his love of God and of his neighbor by exterior works, the proper order of charity must always be observed. If we are eager to help those suffering in other parts of the world to the detriment of those closest to us, then where is our charity? In other words, how is it possible for me to “love” my neighbor in China or Haiti when I fail to love my spouse, children or fellow parishioner? Finally, true Christian charity is not opposed to the truth. To use the words of St. Paul in today’s epistle, “charity rejoiceth with the truth” (1 Cor. XIII, 6). We are completely mistaken if we believe that we are being charitable to others by compromising the truth. To call evil good or a disordered inclination as something natural is not charity, but rather is to participate in another’s sin and puts our own soul in danger of eternal damnation. So much licentiousness and debauchery take place in society under the banner of tolerance, but we must remember that our Christian duty requires us to love the sinner and hate the sin, which on occasion may require us to correct our neighbor. While we can never judge the intentions of the sinner we can judge when duty requires it whether an act in and of itself is sinful. For example, when a woman commits an abortion the act of taking away an innocent life is always gravely wrong, however, we do not know nor can we pretend to know under what conditions or with what intention she committed this act which may mitigate the culpability. Therefore, to out right condemn the woman as a heartless murderer and a woman of ill-repute is rash at the very least. True Christian charity, dear brethren, always seeks to give others the benefit of the doubt. We do so, not by denying the sin or evil committed, but by presuming the best intentions of the other within the limits of right reason.
The question still remains, however, what is charity? Charity is an infused theological virtue residing in the will that moves us to love God and the things associated with God for His own sake (propter Deum). This definition is most helpful for several reasons, foremost because it reminds us that charity is above all a supernatural habit, which implies that it must be infused into our souls by God in order for us to possess it. To put it in the words of St. Paul, “The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given to us” (Rom. V, 5). A reminder that we cannot fully love God simply through our fallen human nature, since the act (i.e. of charity) must be proportionate to the object which in this case is supernatural. In other words, to love a supernatural Being we need to do so by a supernatural act. If we love God through nature, we are doing so by a natural love based on what God gives us, namely our existence and sustenance. However, if we love God by supernatural charity we love Him for His own sake. Since charity is a theological virtue, it is clear then, that its object is God, the Divine Good, Who can be known by the intellect alone. And therefore charity as the definition tells us resides in the will whose proper object is the good. This is an important point because we need to realize that once charity is infused into our souls by sanctifying grace it can only be lost by a subsequent act of the will, namely mortal sin. Once we are in the state of sanctifying grace, God does not abandon us unless we abandon Him first. Venial sin does not diminish charity in us, but rather impedes its operation.
Charity, like all of the created world, has a certain order and the principle of that order is God Himself. In the order of charity, God is to be loved first and above all others even more than our very selves. Second in the order of charity, is the love of self understood in the proper sense. That is to say, we love ourselves for the sake of God, Who wants our salvation. True self love, therefore, always seeks what is best for one’s own spiritual welfare and eternal salvation. Any friendship or romantic relationship which leads one into sin cannot be based on true love as it violates the order of charity which requires the individual to put his own spiritual well-being first. Finally, in the order of charity comes our love for others especially those closest to us e.g. parents, siblings, spouses, children, fellow parishioners etc. Charity requires us to see our neighbor from the point of view of God and to love our neighbor out of our love of God. The litmus test for testing our love of God is our fraternal charity towards our neighbor. As St. Teresa of Avila instructed her nuns, “We cannot be sure if we are loving God, although we may have good reason to believe that we are, but we can know quite well if we are loving our neighbor. And be certain that, the farther advanced you find you are in this, the greater the love you will have for God” (IC V, 3). We are fooling ourselves if we believe we truly love God while at the same time treat those closest to us by the bond of charity with disdain and contempt. A husband or wife who is kind to everyone except their spouse is failing greatly in their state of life just as much as a priest who would treat everyone
kindly with the exception of his brother priests in the rectory. Charity begins in the home, that is, with those persons closest to us whatever our state of life may be. Listen to the words of St. John, “Dearly beloved, let us love one another, for charity is of God. And every one that loveth, is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God: for God is charity. By this the charity of God appeared towards us, because God hath sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we may live by Him. In this is charity: not as though we had loved God, but because he hath first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. My dearest, if God hath so loved us; we also ought to love one another…If any man say, I love God, and hateth his brother: he is a liar. For he that loveth not his brother, whom he seeth, how can he love God, whom he seeth not? And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother” (1 Jn. IV, 7-12; 20-21).
Not only will we be charitable towards our neighbor if we truly posses the virtue of charity but we will also possess the effects of charity. The effects of charity are primarily the 12 fruits of the Holy Ghost. Spiritual joy is a particular effect of charity. The more a person loves God, the more joyful that person will be. Why? Because when we possess charity we are oriented to our final end. It is no wonder then that those souls which are steeped in sin or who are stingy with their love are often so miserable and suffer great trials of depression. For they are living their lives for anything, except for what they we created to do, namely to love God. Mother Teresa would often remark, “When I see someone sad, I always think they are refusing something to Jesus.” Is this not us who she is speaking about especially when something does not go as we wish or had planned? Yet, the saints remind us that our sorrow can be converted into joy if we generously offer our trials to God. Not only will the charitable man have joy in his heart, but also peace which is the tranquility of order. Peace will reign not only in the soul of the individual, but also in his relationships with others as long as he generously practices this virtue. The converse is also true, where charity does not reign in the hearts of the people there is neither peace nor joy. It is a clear indication that charity has ceased to exist or at the bare minimum is beginning to fade. For us, Roman Catholics, charity is strongly rooted in that sacrament which we call the bond of charity, the Holy Eucharist. Since it is through this sacrament that we, the members of the Mystical Body of Christ, are truly united to Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, in His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity; it follows that the union of the members should grow from their union with Christ in this sacrament. As one Archbishop admonished his faithful, “We too need this charity, we who believe, who have the Faith, who want to stay Catholic and Roman until the last moment of our lives. So we must remain in charity. This Sacrament is the sign and symbol of the love that emanates from Our Lord’s charity. Yet how painful it is sometimes to think that people who nourish themselves daily with the Eucharist never manage to be completely dominated by the virtue of charity! They need to criticize, to form factions, to make rash judgments, to display antipathy towards persons to whom they should show sympathy. Well, then, let us who want to keep Tradition, this holy faith in the Blessed Eucharist, make the resolution today to also keep the fruit of the Holy Eucharist. It does not suffice to believe in it; it does not suffice to say that we are attached to the tradition of faith and hope in the Eucharist without having within us all its fruits” (The Mass of All Time, 143).
Domine ut videam, Lord that I may see! These are the words of the blind man of Jericho to Our Lord as He is passing by. They are words that not only display a great act of faith, but also one of humility. As we approach even closer to the holy days of the Lenten season, we, too, should ask Our Lord to grant us the grace to see ourselves as we truly are and our neighbor through the supernatural lens of charity. When there are supernatural problems in the home or even the parish, the solution must be a supernatural one, and that is charity. Charity alone unites us to God and our place in Heaven will be determined by the degree of our love. How much do we realize this? Perhaps not enough, because if we did both you and I would be more earnest in the practice of this virtue. Everything in our life is a response to the infinite charity God has bestowed upon us. We must be convinced that the saints are correct in saying that, “love is repaid by love alone.” In the spiritual life our model is always the divine model, Jesus Christ, Who spared not an ounce of His Blood for our sake and Whose Heart was pierced by a lance. It is to this degree that God has loved us, the question we must ask ourselves is: what has been my response thus far? If we’ve been miserly then now is the time to begin anew. And if we have already begun to be generous now is the time to continue being generous and not to go back, “for God loveth a cheeful giver” (2 Cor. IX, 7). Let us, dear brethren, continue to pray for one another asking God to widen our hearts in order to be quick to forgive any harm we have suffered and to bear our trials with great joy and peace. May we never forget the words of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, “There is only one thing to do during the night, the one night of life which will come only once, and this is to love, to love Jesus with all the strength of our heart and to save souls for Him so that He may be loved!” (With Empty Hands, 16).
In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost Amen.