The Extent of Fraternal Charity
Presence of God – O Lord, make me understand that true charity allows of no exceptions, but embraces with sincere love our neighbor, whoever he may be.
If charity were based on our neighbor’s qualities, on his merits or his worth, if it were based on the consolation and benefits we receive from him, it would be impossible to extend it to all men. But since it is founded on the neighbor’s relation to God, no one can be legitimately excluded from it, because we all belong to God—we are, in fact, His creatures, and, at least by vocation, His children, redeemed by the Blood of Christ and called to live in “fellowship” with God (cf. 1 John 1:3) by grace here on earth and by the beatific vision in heaven. Even if some, by their sins, have become unworthy of God’s grace, as long as they live, they are always capable of being converted and of being re-admitted to loving intimacy with their heavenly Father.
In the Old Testament, the great mystery of the communication of divine life to men was not revealed. Because Jesus had not yet come to establish these new relations between God and men, the law of fraternal charity did not demand this universal bond; the ancients would not have understood it. But since Jesus has come to tell us that God is our Father who wishes to communicate His divine life to us; since Jesus has come to offer us the grace of adoption as sons of God, the precept of charity has acquired a new breath. “You have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbor and hate thy enemy. But I say to you: Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you: that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust” (Matthew 5:43-45). This is how Jesus Himself gave us the motive of universal charity: we should love all men because they are the children of our heavenly Father; thus, we imitate His universal love for all those who are His creatures, chosen by Him to be His adopted children. Jesus also tells us to love our neighbor “propter Deum,” for God’s sake.
“O Jesus, I know I have no enemies; but I do have my natural likes and dislikes: I may feel drawn toward one sister, and may be tempted to go a long way in order to avoid meeting another. However, You tell me that this last is the sister I must love and pray for, even though her manners might lead me to believe that she does not care for me. ‘If you love them that love you, what thanks are to you? For sinners also love those that love them.’ And You teach me more, that it is not enough to love; we must also prove our love. We take a natural delight in pleasing friends, but that is not charity; even sinners do the same.
“From all this, I conclude that I ought to seek the companionship of those sisters for whom I feel a natural aversion and try to be their good Samaritan. It frequently takes only a word or a smile to impart fresh life to a despondent soul. Yet it is not merely in the hope of bringing consolation that I wish to be kind; if it were, I should soon be discouraged, for often well-intentioned words are totally misunderstood. Consequently, in order that I may lose neither time nor labor, I shall try to act solely to please You, O Jesus, by following this precept of the Gospel: ‘When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends nor thy brethren, lest perhaps they also invite thee again, and a recompense be made to thee.’
“O Lord, what can I offer to my sisters but the spiritual feast of sweet and joyful charity? Teach me to imitate St. Paul who rejoiced with those who rejoiced. It is true he also wept with those who wept, and at the feast which I desire to provide, tears must sometimes fall, but I shall always do my best to change them into smiles, since Thou, O Lord, loveth the cheerful giver” (Thèrése of the Child Jesus, Story of a Soul, 10 – 11).
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Art for this post on the extent of fraternal charity: Partial restoration of Tomb of Thérèse de Lisieux [Statue], artist unknown, photographed by Renardieu, 2005-07-03, CCA-SA 2.0 Generic, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.