The Excellence of Charity
Presence of God – Make me understand, O Lord, the pre-eminence of charity, that I may apply myself to it with all my heart.
The three theological virtues, having God for their immediate object, are superior to the moral virtues which are directed to the government of our conduct; but among the three theological virtues, charity holds the primacy. It holds the primacy because, being inseparable from grace, it is the constitutive and indispensable element of our supernatural life. Where there is no charity there is neither grace nor life, but only death. “He that loveth not, abideth in death,” and contrariwise, “He that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him” (1 John 3:14 – 4:16). Faith and hope can subsist in a soul which has lost grace, but charity cannot. It is so vital that it cannot co-exist with the death that is caused by sin. Furthermore, it is so vital that it is imperishable and will remain unchanged for all eternity. In heaven, faith and hope will cease because they bear with them some imperfection: faith makes us know God without giving us the vision of Him, and hope lets us hope in Him without giving us possession of Him. Hence, “when that which is perfect is come,” that is, the beatific vision, these two virtues will have no further reason for existing. However, it is not the same with charity which implies no imperfection, since by it, we love God either in the obscurity of faith, or in the clarity of vision, and therefore St. Paul says, “Charity never falleth away.” Here on earth, to adhere to God, “these three remain: faith, hope, and charity: but the greatest of these is charity” (1 Corinthians 13:8,13).
Faith and hope are incomplete virtues, because without charity they cannot unite us to God and produce the works of eternal life. The faith and hope of a sinner, one who has lost charity, are inactive and inoperative; they remain in him, it is true, but they are there as if dead. “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26), and only “faith that worketh by charity … availeth anything” (Galatians 5:6), and this to the extent, that “if I should have all faith so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing” (1 Corinthians 13:2). It is charity that gives the warmth and strength of eternal life to faith and hope; it is charity that infuses vigor into these virtues, for only he who loves is capable of abandoning himself to God with eyes closed.
“Clothe me, O Lord, with the purple garment of charity which not only adds grace to faith and hope but causes the soul to rise to so lofty a point that it is brought very near You and becomes very beautiful and pleasing in Your eyes. It is the virtue which most attracts Your love, protects the soul against pride and gives value to the other virtues, bestowing on them vigor and strength, grace and beauty so that they may please You, for without charity no virtue has grace before Your eyes.
“O sweetest love of God, how little are You known! He who has found Your fountain has found rest. You remove from the affections of the will whatever is not God and set it upon Him alone, and then you prepare this faculty and unite it to God through love.
“O God, teach me to use all my powers to love You, so that all the faculties of my soul and body: memory, understanding, and will, inward and outward senses, desires of the sensual part and of the spiritual part, will work in love and for the sake of love. Grant that all that I do I may do with love, and all that I suffer I may suffer with the pleasure of love, and that in this way, my God, I may keep all my strength for You” (John of the Cross: Dark Night of the Soul II, 21,10.11 – Spiritual Maxims – Words of Light I, 16 – Spiritual Canticle 28,8).
“I resolve, O my God, to have no other purpose but love in all my actions, interior as well as exterior, always saying and asking myself: What am I doing now? Am I loving my God? And if I see that there is any obstacle to pure love, I shall reproach myself, remembering, O Lord, that I must return You love for love. Well do You make me understand that the more I love You, the more diligent I shall be in the observance of all Your holy laws” (cf. Teresa Margaret of the Heart of Jesus Spirituality of St. Teresa Margareet of the Heart of Jesus).
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Art for this post on the excellence of charity: St. John of the Cross, Francisco de Zurbarán, 1656, PD-US author’s life plus 100 years or less, Wikimedia Commons. Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, mirror from open source material.