PART 3 - The Illuminative Way of Proficients
Ch 20 : Fraternal Charity,
Radiation of the Love of God
"And the glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given to them;
that they may be one, as We also are one." John 17:22
In the illuminative way of proficients, fraternal charity should therefore be one of the greatest signs of the progress of the love of God. Here we must insist on the formal motive for which charity should be practiced, so that it may not be confounded with, for example, simple amiability or natural comradeship, or with liberalism, which assumes the exterior appearances of charity but differs greatly from this infused virtue. Liberalism disregards the value of faith and of divine truth, whereas charity presupposes them as its basis. To see clearly the formal motive of fraternal charity, not only in a theoretical and abstract manner, but in a concrete and experimental manner, we shall examine why our love of God should extend to our neighbor, and how actually to make progress in fraternal charity. That we may look at the matter from a supernatural point of view, we shall consider the love of Jesus for us.
Fraternal charity, which the Lord demands of us, differs immensely from the natural tendency which inclines us to do good in order to please others, which leads us also to love the kind, to hate those who do us evil, and to remain indifferent to others. Natural love makes us love our neighbor for his natural good qualities and for the benefits we receive from him; we find this love in good comradeship. The motive of charity is quite different and very much higher; the proof of it is in Christ's words: "Love your enemies: do good to them that hate you: and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you. . . . For if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans this? . . . Be you therefore perfect, as also your heavenly Father is perfect." (4)
We should love our enemies with the same supernatural, theological love as we have for God; for there are not two virtues of charity, the one toward God, the other toward our neighbor. There is only one virtue of charity, the first act of which has God, loved above all else, as its object; and its secondary acts have ourselves and our neighbor as their object. Hence this virtue is very superior to the great virtue of justice, and not only to commutative and distributive justice, but to legal or social justice and to equity.
But how is it possible for us to have a divine love for men, who, like ourselves, are so often imperfect? Theology replies with St. Thomas (5) by a simple example: he who greatly loves his friend, loves the children of this friend with the same love; he loves them because he loves their father, and for his sake he wishes them well. For love of their father, he will, if necessary, come to their aid and pardon them if they have offended him.
Therefore, since all men are children of God by grace, or at least called to become so, we should love all men, even our enemies, with a supernatural love and desire the same eternal beatitude for them as for ourselves. We ought all to travel toward the same end, to make the same journey toward eternity, under the impulsion of the same grace, to live by the same love. Charity is thus a supernatural bond of perfection which unites us, as it should, to God and to our neighbor. It unites hearts at no matter what distance they may be; it leads us to love God in man and man in God.
The supernatural love of charity is rare among men because many seek their own interest primarily, and more readily comprehend the formula: "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
The precept of fraternal charity was greatly neglected before the time of Christ; consequently He had to insist on it. He did so from the very beginning of His preaching in the Sermon on the Mount,(6) and He continually reverted to it, especially in His last words before He died.(7) St. John, in his Epistles, and St. Paul repeatedly remind us of this precept. They show us that when charity enters the heart, it is followed by all the other virtues; it is meek, patient, and humble.(8)
But to love our neighbor supernaturally so far as he is the child of God or is called to become so, we must look upon him with the eyes of faith and tell ourselves that this person whose temperament and character are opposed to ours is "born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but [as we are] of God," or called to be born of Him, to share in the same divine life, in the same beatitude as we. Especially in a Christian milieu, we can and ought to tell ourselves in regard to persons who are less congenial to us that their souls are, in spite of everything, temples of the Holy Ghost, that they are members of the mystical body of Christ, nearer perhaps to His heart than we are; that they are living stones whom God works that He may give them a place in the heavenly Jerusalem. How can we fail to love our neighbor, if we truly love God, our common Father? If we do not love our neighbor, our love of God is a lie. On the contrary, if we love him, it is a sign that we truly love God, the Author of the grace that vivifies us.
A young Jew whom we knew, the son of a Vienna banker, one day had the opportunity to take vengeance on his family's greatest enemy; as he was about to do so, he remembered the following words of Scripture, which he was in the habit of reading from time o time: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Then, instead of taking vengeance, he fully pardoned his enemy and immediately received the grace of faith. He believed in the entire Gospel, and a short time afterward entered the Church and became a priest and religious. The precept of fraternal charity had illumined him.
Even about an adversary we must tell ourselves that we can and ought to love him with the same supernatural, theological love as we have for the divine Persons; for we ought to love in him the image of God, the divine life that he possesses or is called to receive, his supernatural being, the realization of the divine idea which presides over his destiny, the glory which he is called to give to God in time and eternity.
The following objection has occasionally been raised against this lofty doctrine: But is this truly loving man; is it not loving God only in man, as one admires a diamond in a jewel-case? Man naturally wishes to be loved for himself, but as man he cannot demand a divine love.
In reality, charity does not love God only in man, but man in God. and man himself for God. It truly loves what man should be, an eternal part of the mystical body of Christ, and it does all in its power to make him attain heaven. It loves even what man already is through grace; and, if he has not grace, it loves his nature in him, not so far as it is fallen, unbalanced, unruly, hostile to grace, but so far as it is the image of God and capable of receiving the divine graft of grace that will increase its resemblance to God. In short, charity loves man himself, but for God, for the glory that he is called to give to God in time and eternity.
Whatever naturalism may say, in loving our neighbor in God and for God we do not love him less, we love him much more and far more perfectly. We do not love his defects; we put up with them; but we love in man all that is noble in him, all in him that is called to grow and to blossom in eternal life.
Far from being a Platonic and inefficacious love of our neighbor, charity, in growing, disposes us to judge him well and to condescend to his wishes in whatever is not contrary to the commandments of God. Condescension thus born of charity makes indifferent things good, and the painful things that we impose on ourselves for our neighbor, fruitful. There is great charity in thus preserving union with all by avoiding clashes which might arise, or by effecting a reconciliation as soon as possible. Charity that grows has thus a radiating goodness; it makes us continually love not only what is good for us, but what is good for our neighbor, even for our enemies, and what is good from the superior point of view of God, by desiring for others the goods which do not pass, and especially the sovereign Good and its inamissible possession. St. Thomas sums up all this briefly: "Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God. Hence it is clear that it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love our neighbor. Consequently the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor." (9)
Thus sight perceives light first of all and by it the seven colors of the rainbow. It could not perceive colors if it did not see light. Likewise we could not supernaturally love the children of God if we did not first supernaturally love God Himself, our common Father.(10)
Whereas justice inclines us to wish good to another inasmuch as he is another or distinct from us, charity makes us love him as "another self," an alter ego, with a love of truly supernatural friendship, as the saints in heaven love one another.
Therefore our charity should be universal: it should know no limits. It cannot exclude anyone on earth, in purgatory, or in heaven. It stops only before hell. It is only the damned that we cannot love, for they are no longer capable of becoming children of God. They hate Him eternally; they do not ask for pardon or for the grace to repent; hence they can no longer excite pity, for there is no longer in them the faintest desire to rise again. However, says St. Thomas, they are still the object of the divine mercy, in the sense that they are punished less than they deserve, (11) a fact that gladdens our charity, which extends even that far.
Beyond the certain fact of damnation (and we are not certain of the damnation of anyone, except that of the fallen angels and of the "son of perdition"), charity is due to all; it knows no limits, it is broad, in a sense, like the heart of God. We had examples of this breadth of charity in the first World War when, on the battle front, a French boy at the point of death finished the Hail Mary begun by a young German who had just died beside him. The Blessed Virgin reunited these two youths, in spite of the harsh opposition of the war, in order to introduce them both into the supernal fatherland.
To be universal, charity does not have to be equal for all, and its progress in the illuminative way shows increasingly better what is called the order of charity, which admirably respects and elevates the order dictated by nature. Thus we should love God efficaciously above all else, at least with a love of esteem, if not with a love that is felt. Next we should love our own soul, then that of our neighbor, and finally our body, which we should sacrifice for the salvation of a soul, especially when we are obliged by our office to provide for it, as happens to those who have charge of souls. The order of charity appears more clearly as this virtue grows in us. We understand better and better that among our neighbors we should have a greater love of esteem for those who are better, nearer to God, although we love with a more sensible love those who are nearest to us through blood, marriage, vocation, or friendship.(12) We also distinguish increasingly better the shades of the different friendships based on the bonds of family, country, or profession, or on bonds of an entirely spiritual order.(13)
The scale of values which appears more and more in this order of charity shows that God wishes to reign in our hearts, without excluding the legitimate affections which can and ought to be subordinated to the love we have for Him; then these affections are vivified, ennobled, purified, rendered more generous. Consequently the progress of charity" does away with that esprit de corps, that collective egoism, that nosism which sometimes recalls painfully the chauvinism of certain narrow patriots who belittle their fatherland in their desire to magnify it. A spiritual daughter of St. Francis de Sales, Mother Louise de Ballon, who reformed the Bernardines and founded seventeen convents, used to say on this subject: "I can belong only to one order by profession and state; but I belong to all orders by inclination and love. . . . I confess ingenuously that I have always been afflicted at seeing monasteries envy each other . . . , at hearing some say that the good of the children of St. Augustine should not be for those of St. Benedict, and others say that the good of St. Benedict should not be given to the disciples of St. Bernard. Is it not the blood of Jesus Christ and not that of St. Augustine, St. Benedict, or St. Bernard, which purchased for their religious all the good that they possess? O my Lord! Establish solidly a good understanding among Your servants. . . . The different orders are composed of different bodies, but they should have only one heart, only one soul, as it was written of the first Christians." (14)
Without this broad charity, we would fall into the defect, into the narrowness which St. Paul blamed in the Corinthians, some of whom said: "I indeed am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollo," to which the saint replied: "What then is Apollo, and what is Paul? The ministers of Him whom you have believed; and to everyone as the Lord hath given. I have planted, Apollo watered, but God gave the increase. Therefore, neither he that planteth is anything, nor he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase." (15)
In the same epistle the great Apostle writes: "Is Christ divided? Was Paul then crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (16) "Let no man therefore glory in men. For all things are yours, whether it be Paul or Apollo or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; for all are yours; and you are Christ's; and Christ is God's."
Such indeed, above all individual or collective narrowness, is the admirable order of charity, as it should appear increasingly in the disinterested proficient, whose heart should enlarge in a sense, like the heart of God, by the very progress of charity, which is truly a participation in the divine life, in eternal love.
This growing charity ought to be not only affective but effective, not only benevolent but beneficent. The lives of the saints show that they understood the Master's words: "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you." (18) Christ loved us even to the death of the cross; the saints loved their brethren even to the martyrdom of the heart, and often even to giving the testimony of their blood.
Such is fraternal charity, the extension or radiation of the love we should have for God. Similarly, humility in respect to our neighbor is the extension of the virtue that leads us to humble ourselves before God and before what is of God in all His works.
Occasions of failing in fraternal charity present themselves only too often even in the best surroundings; first of all, because of the defects of all who, though tending to perfection, have not reached it. Each of us is like a truncated pyramid that has not yet its summit. Our neighbor often seems so to us, and we forget that we appear in like manner to him; we see the mote in our neighbor's eye, and do not see the beam in our own.
Moreover, if, by an impossibility, all our defects were suppressed before our entrance into heaven, occasions of clashes and offenses would still subsist because of the diversity of temperaments - bilious, nervous, lymphatic, or sanguine; by reason of the diversity of characters - some inclined to indulgence, others to severity; because of the diversity of minds - some inclined to view things as a whole, others in the minutest detail; by reason again of the difference in education; because of nervous fatigue; and finally because of the demon, who takes pleasure in causing division that he may destroy our Lord's work of truth, unity, and peace.
The devil intervenes more directly in certain excellent centers in order to obstruct the great good that might be done there. He seeks much more directly to disturb such groups than he does less good or positively evil centers, where he already rules through the maxims there diffused and the examples found there. As we see in the Gospel and the lives of the saints, the enemy of souls sows cockle among the best, placing in imaginations, as it were, a magnifying glass which transforms a grain of sand into a mountain.
We should also keep in mind that Providence designedly leaves among the good many occasions for humility and for the exercise of fraternal charity. It is in weakness that the grace of God manifests its power and that our virtue is perfected; our weaknesses humiliate us, and those of others exercise us.
Only in heaven will every occasion of conflict completely disappear, because the blessed, illumined by the divine light, see in God all that they should think, will, and do. On earth the saints themselves may enter into conflict, and occasionally no one yields for some time, because each is persuaded in conscience that he must maintain his point of view; that he may indeed yield in regard to his rights, but not in respect to his obligations. The case of St. Charles Borromeo and of St. Philip Neri illustrates this point. They could not come to an agreement on the foundation of one order; and, as a matter of fact, in this case the Lord wished two religious families instead of one.
In the midst of so many difficulties, how should fraternal charity grow? It should grow especially in two ways: by benevolence and beneficence; that is, first by considering our neighbor in the light of faith that we may discover in him the life of grace, at least what is good in his nature; then by loving our neighbor effectively, and that in many ways: by putting up with his defects, rendering him service, returning good for evil, praying for union of minds and hearts.
First of all, we should view our neighbor in the light of faith that we may find in him the life of grace, or at least the image of God a ready graven in the very nature of his spiritual and immortal soul. Since charity, in its aspect as love of God, presupposes faith in God, in its aspect as love of neighbor it assumes that we consider him in the light of faith and not only in that of our eyes of flesh, or in that of a reason more or less deformed by egoism. We need a pure gaze fitted to see the divine life of others under an envelope that at times is thick and opaque. We see the supernatural being of our neighbor if we merit to do so, if we are detached from self.
In this connection we would do well to face the fact that often what irritates us against our neighbor is not serious sins against God, but rather defects of temperament which sometimes subsist despite real virtue. We would perhaps easily put up with sinners who are quite removed from God but naturally amiable, whereas advanced souls are occasionally very "trying" to us. We must, therefore, resolve to look at souls in the light of faith that we may discover in them what is pleasing to God, what He loves in them, and what we should love in them.
This higher light produces benevolence, whereas rash judgment most seriously opposes this benevolent view. For this reason Christ insists so strongly on this point in the Sermon on the Mount: "Judge not, that you may not be judged. For with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why seest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, and seest not the beam that is in thy own eye? . . . Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye." (19)
It should be clearly noted that rash judgment is not a simple unfavorable impression; it is a judgment. It consists in affirming evil on a slight indication; in reality a person sees two objects, but because of pride affirms that he sees four. If this judgment is fully deliberate and consented to in a serious matter, that is, judging one's neighbor guilty of a mortal sin, the one who judges, himself commits a mortal sin.(20) Consequently, says St. Thomas, if we cannot avoid certain suspicions, we should take care not to make a firm and definitive judgment on slight indications.(21)
Rash judgment, properly so called, is a sin against justice, especially when it is outwardly expressed by words or acts.(22) Our neighbor has, in fact, a right to his reputation; next to the right which he has to do his duty, he has the right to uphold his good name more than to defend the right to property. We should respect this right of others to their reputation if we wish our own to be respected.
Moreover, rash judgment is often false. How can we judge with
certainty of the interior intentions of a person whose doubts, errors,
difficulties, temptations, good desires, or repentance, we do not
know? How can we claim to know better than he what he says to God in
prayer? How can we judge justly when we do not have the details of the
Rash judgment is likewise a sin against charity. What is most serious in the eyes of God, is not that this hasty judgment is often false and always unjust, but that it proceeds from malevolence, though often expressed with the mask of benevolence, which is only a grimace of charity. Anyone judging rashly is not only a judge who arrogates to himself jurisdiction over the souls of his brothers which he does not possess, but a judge sold by his egoism and his pride, at times a pitiless judge, who knows only how to condemn, and who, though unaware of it, presumes to impose laws on the Holy Ghost, admitting no other way than his own. Instead of seeing in his neighbor a brother, a son of God, called to the same beatitude as he is, he sees in him only a stranger, perhaps a rival to supplant and humiliate. This defect withdraws many from the contemplation of divine things; it is a veil over the eyes of the spirit.
If we do not go so far, we may judge the interior life of a soul rashly in order to enjoy our own clear vision and to show it off. Let us remember that God alone sees this conscience openly. We should be on our guard and remember with what insistence Christ said: "Judge not." At the moment when we are judging rashly, we do not foresee that shortly afterward we shall perhaps fall into a more grievous sin than the one for which we reproached our neighbor. We see the mote in our neighbor's eye and do not see the beam in our own.
If the evil is evident, does God demand that we should not see it? No, but He forbids us to murmur with pride. At times, He commands us in the name of charity to practice fraternal correction with benevolence, humility, meekness, and discretion, as indicated in the Gospel of St. Matthew,(23) and as St. Thomas (24) explains it. We should see whether correction is possible and if there is hope for amendment, or whether it is necessary to have recourse to the superior that he may warn the guilty person.(24)
Finally, as St. Catherine of Siena says, when the evil is evident, perfection, instead of murmuring, has compassion on the guilty party; we take on ourselves, in part at least, his sin before God, following the example of our Lord who took all our sins upon Himself on the cross. Did He not say to us: "Love one another, as I have loved you"? (26)
We must, therefore, repress rash judgment that we may become accustomed to see our neighbor in the light of faith and to discover in him the life of grace, or at least his nature so far as it is an image of God that grace should ennoble.
It is not sufficient to look upon our neighbor benevolently; we must love him effectively. We can do this by bearing with his defects, returning him good for evil, avoiding jealousy, and praying for union of hearts.
We bear with another's defects more easily if we observe that often what arouses our impatience is not a serious sin in the eyes of God, but rather a defect of temperament: nervousness or, on the contrary, apathy, a certain narrowness of judgment, a frequent lack of tact, a certain way of putting himself forward, and other defects of this kind. Even if the defect is grave, we should not allow ourselves to go so far as to become irritated over evil that is permitted by God; and we should not allow our zeal to become bitterness. While complaining of others, let us not go so far as to persuade ourselves that we have realized the ideal. Without suspecting it, we would be uttering the prayer of the Pharisee.
To put up with the defects of another, we must remember that God permits evil only for a higher good. It has been said that God's business consists in drawing good from evil, whereas we can do good only with good. The scandal of evil, producing a bitter and indiscreet zeal, is responsible for the fruitlessness of many reforms. The truth should be told with measure and goodness and not spoken with contempt. We should also avoid indiscretion that leads to speaking without sufficient reason about the faults of one's neighbor, which is slander and may lead to calumny.
The Gospel tells us that not only must we bear with the defects of our neighbor, but also return good for evil by prayer, edification, and mutual assistance. It is related that one of the ways of winning the good graces of St. Teresa was to cause her pain. She really practiced the counsel of Christ: "If a man will contend with thee in judgment and take away thy coat, let go thy cloak also unto him." (27) Why should we do this? Because it is much less important to defend our temporal rights than to win the soul of our brother for eternity, than to lead him to the true life which has no end. In particular, prayer for our neighbor, when we have to suffer from him, is especially efficacious, as was that of Jesus for His executioners and that of St. Stephen, the first martyr, when he was being stoned.
We must also avoid jealousy, telling ourselves that we ought to enjoy in a holy manner the natural and supernatural qualities that the Lord has given to others and not to us. As St. Paul says: "If the foot should say: Because I am not the hand, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? And if the ear should say: Because I am not the eye, I am not of the body; is it therefore not of the body? If the whole body were the eye, where would be the hearing? If the whole were hearing, where would be the smelling? But now God hath set the members, everyone of them, in the body as it hath pleased Him. And if they all were one member, where would be the body? But now there are many members indeed, yet one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you. . . . But God hath tempered the body together. . . that there might be no schism in the body; but the members might be mutually careful one for another. And if one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members of member." (28) The hand benefits by what the eye sees; similarly we benefit by the merits of others. We should therefore rejoice in the good qualities of another instead of allowing ourselves to become jealous. We must exercise charity particularly toward inferiors who are weaker, and toward superiors who have greater burdens to bear. We must not emphasize their defects; were we in their place, we would perhaps do less well than they. But we must help them as much as possible in a discreet and, so to speak, unperceived manner.
Lastly, we must pray for union of minds and hearts. Praying for His disciples, Christ said: "The glory which Thou hast given Me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as We also are one." (29) In the primitive Church, the Acts tell us: "The multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own; but all things were common unto them." (30) As it spread over the world, the Church could not preserve such great intimacy among its members, but religious communities and Christian fraternities should remember the union of hearts in the early Church. In communities where there is common observance of life and prayers, this interior union must exist, otherwise observances and common prayer would be a lie to God, to men, and to ourselves. Union of hearts contributes to giving the Church the luster of the mark of sanctity, which presupposes unity of faith, worship, hierarchy, hope, and charity.
The radiating charity that unites the different members of the
Savior's mystical body, in spite of diversity of ages, countries,
temperaments, and characters, is a sign that the Word became flesh,
that He came among us to unite us and to give us life. He Himself
declares it in His sacerdotal prayer: "The glory which Thou hast given
Me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as We also are one. .
. , and the world may know that Thou hast sent Me, and hast loved
them, as Thou hast also loved Me." (31)
1. Matt. 19: 19; 22:39; Mark 12.:31; Luke 10:2.7; John 13:34.
2. John 13:34f.
3. Cf. I John 4:20.
4. Matt. 5:44, 46, 48.
5. Summa, IIa IIae, q.23, a.1 ad 2um: "Indeed, so much do we love our friends, that for their sake we love all who belong to them, even if they hurt or hate us; so that, in this way, the friendship of charity extends even to our enemies, whom we love out of charity in relation to God, to whom the friendship of charity is chiefly directed."
6. Matt. 5: 38-48.
7. John 13:34; 15:12-17.
8. Cf. I Cor. 13:4.
9. Summa, IIa IIae, q.25, a. I.
10. Cf. ibid.
11. Cf. Ia, q.21, a.4 ad 1um.
12. Summa, IIa IIae, q.16, a.7.
13. Ibid., a.8-12.
14. Myriam de G., Louise de Ballan, reformatrice des Bernardines, 1935, p.317.
15. Cf. I Cor. 3:4-7.
16. Ibid., 1: 13.
17. Ibid., 3:21-23.
18. John 15:12.
19. Matt. 7: 1-5.
20. Rash judgment must, therefore, be distinguished from rash doubt, suspicion, or opinion relative to the probity of another; an opinion of this kind is generally a venial sin. On the contrary, St. Thomas (IIa IIae, q.60, a.3) says of rash judgment: "This is a mortal sin, if it be about a grave matter, since it cannot be without contempt of one's neighbor." Consequently, in doubtful matters he must be given the benefit of the doubt. Cf. IIa IIae, q.60, a.4.
21. However, without rashly judging a person who is somewhat suspect, one may take precautions to avoid being deceived by him in a case in which he would have a bad intention. Thus, without rashly judging his servants, a householder keeps certain precious articles under lock and key; and at times he intentionally leaves money on a table to see if it will be taken.
22. Summa, IIa IIae, q.60, a.3.
23. Matt. 18: 15 17: "If thy brother shall offend against thee, go, and rebuke him between thee and him alone. If he shall hear thee, thou shalt gain thy brother. And if he will not hear thee, take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may stand. And if he will not hear them, tell the church."
24. Summa, IIa IIae, q.33, a.1, 2.
26. John 13:34.
27. Matt. 5:40.
28. Cf. I Cor. 12: 15-21, 24-27.
29. John 17:22.
30. Acts 4:31.
31. John 17:22 f.