The will of God contains all that is necessary for each of us to please Him and to reach those heights of holiness which He desires us to achieve. Nothing more, then, is necessary than to abandon ourselves completely to this will of God. But the use of the word “abandonment” must not be taken to imply merely a generous and open-hearted acceptance of all God allows to happen to us; it is here used to cover that active fulfillment of God’s will, by performing those things that He wills us to do, with cheerful and energetic promptitude. The first thing He asks of us is that we love Him with our whole heart and soul, and that we conform our wills to His. And He indicates His will in a special way to us when He says:
A new commandment I give unto you; that you love one another, as I have loved you, that you also love one another (Jn 13:34). . . . As the Father hath loved me, I also have loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you shall abide in my love; as I also have kept my Father’s commandments, and do abide in his love. . . . This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (Jn 15:9–13)
Here we have a manifestation of God’s will which is so important that our Lord Himself made it the distinctive mark of His disciples: “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another” (Jn 13:35). No one seeking to live a Christian life can afford to neglect this command. Coming as it does in our Lord’s farewell discourse, immediately after His explanation of Christian unity: “I am the vine, you are the branches” (Jn 15:5), its relation with our membership of the mystic vine—with our incorporation in the Mystical Body—is obvious. Since Christ and His members form one vine, one body, we cannot be united to Him as to our Head unless we are also united to our fellow members as to an “extension” of Him. “Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren you did it to me” (Mt 25:40). If St. Paul is entranced with the wonders of the unity of the Mystical Body, St. John the Evangelist is equally entranced with the wonders of fraternal charity; and fundamentally, the two ideas arise from the same mystery of our unity in Christ. St.John cannot get away from the thought. There is a well-known account of his last days given by St. Jerome, when the aged apostle, whose inspired eye had once seen the vision of the Apocalypse, could no longer walk to his Church or even preach at any length. For all and sundry he had but one counsel and precept: “Little children, love one another.” Some of his hearers were moved by the constant repetition to inquire why he always repeated this advice. St. John’s answer was simply this: “Because it is the commandment of the Lord; and if this alone is done—it is sufficient.” We cannot refrain from quoting his epistle on the subject:
Dearly beloved, let us love one another, for charity is of God. And everyone that loveth, is born of God and knoweth God. He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is charity . . . If we love one another, God abideth in us, and his charity is perfected in us. . . . God is charity; and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him. . . . 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 (1Jn 4:7, 8, 12, 16, 20, 21).
There can, therefore, be no true union with God unless we love also our neighbor. First of all, our neighbor is a member of the body of Christ, and we do not truly love Christ if we do not also love the members of Christ. Secondly, Christ delivered Himself for each of His members, and we, ourselves, cannot be united to Christ unless we share in His love for them. That is why He lays upon us the tremendous obligation to love one another “as He has loved us.” We call it tremendous, for He loved us to the extent of laying down His life for us.
At first sight this seems to be an intolerable burden and an impossible obligation. But the service of God is a reasonable service, and He Himself has assured us that His yoke is easy and His burden light. If we examine this precept of love, we shall find that the obligation, while extensive, is by no means insupportable. For though we are to love the members of Christ as He did, we must note that we ourselves are also members of Christ, and, therefore, we are bound to love ourselves in a truly supernatural fashion; and our first responsibility is for our own supernatural welfare. Further, we should note that though we are bound to love all, we are not bound to like anyone. It is true that our likes and dislikes can be offenses against charity, insofar as they are willful and inordinate; but there are many natural causes which produce a sympathy or an antipathy for which we are not responsible. What we are responsible for is to see that these natural likes and dislikes do not interfere with the discharge of the obligations that justice and charity impose upon us in regard to our neighbor.
We are bound to love our neighbor insofar as he belongs to God. Therefore, our love for our own selves comes under the same principle. God died for our salvation, and hence our first duty of charity is to save our own souls. In desiring our own good, we should be guided by this principle; and we may and often should seek health, pleasure, safety, learning, honor, fame, and the goods of this world insofar as they assist us to reach our supernatural end. Insofar as these things come between us and God or lead us away from Him to seek them, their pursuit is not true Christian love of ourselves. Because we are personally responsible for our own salvation, we must put that first. The duty and the freedom to seek for other goods for ourselves may be modified by circumstances. Thus we are bound to take ordinary measures to preserve our own life; but we may sacrifice our life for the good of our neighbor. In a state of public emergency such as war, we may, in fact, be bound to endanger our life for the common good, and there are occasions when the saving of our neighbor’s soul may oblige us to risk our own life. A priest, for example, would be bound even at the risk of his own life to administer the necessary sacraments to a dying man for whose salvation they were necessary. A mother may sometimes be bound to endanger her own life if there is no other way of ensuring the baptism of her child. What we are bound to do is one thing; what we are permitted to do, and would be praised for doing, is another. We may all follow our Lord’s example of laying down His life for His friends.
We are bound to love all men. “To love,” in this context, means to wish well to all men. Therefore, our charity must be sincere and interior, and we must will all men good equally insofar we must will them all salvation. In practice this means that we must not deliberately exclude anybody, friend or enemy, from our prayers, and that in a case of extreme necessity we should be ready to give them any help that is essential for them and which may be in our power. But, not all men have an equal claim upon our further charity. “Charity,” says St. Thomas, “does not change the natural order, it perfects it.” Other things being equal, our own family has first claim, then our relatives, our friends and our benefactors; and of a man’s own family, his wife must come first, though her claim is not exclusive and may have to yield to special necessity.
This love of charity must be supernatural. We do not satisfy our Lord’s new commandment by a natural love. It must be supernatural in its principle and in its nature. We must love our neighbor for God, and according to God. As the Imitation of Christ says: “That seems often to be charity which is rather natural affection; because our own natural inclination, self-will, hope of reward, desire of our own interest, will seldom be wanting.” That does not mean that a natural love or friendship cannot be supernaturalized, but it means that until the natural is subjected to the supernatural, we have not true Christian charity.
Having noted these two points, that our charity must be supernatural and that it may have to be limited in one order or direction by the higher claims of charity in another order or direction (for the natural must yield to the supernatural, and the stranger may have to yield to the relative), let us see how it affects our relations with the rest of human society. In the first place we have a duty to everyone even in our thoughts. Rash judgments and suspicion, envy and ill will against one’s neighbor, have no place in the deliberate thoughts of the true Christian. And in passing let it be noted that nearly all avoidance of evil and all practice of virtue must begin in our thoughts. If we deliberately allow ourselves to think evil, we shall soon find ourselves speaking evil and doing evil. Even in our thoughts and imagination we must apply the principles and ideals which we wish to be dominant in our daily life.
The faults of the tongue are innumerable, and it is noteworthy that even in people who are otherwise quite virtuous one often finds an uncharitable tongue. There is a wide field here for the practice of virtue and the quest of holiness. So much so that the Holy Ghost tells us by pen of St. James: “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man” Js 3:2). Let us remember that every word we utter or every insinuation we make to the detriment of our neighbor is an injury done to Christ. There are occasions when one must speak unpleasant truths about one’s neighbor—for example, in a law court, or to avoid greater evil—but, normally, we are not allowed to speak evil of him, even when what we say is true. The Christian man does his best to hide the faults of others and will not listen to detraction. If detraction is wrong, calumny is still worse. And even quite good people do not seem to realize the responsibility they have for every single word they say about anyone else. Our neighbor’s honor and good name, his professional reputation and his personal character, should be as safe in our mouth as in our Lord’s. And it must be remembered that this is true even though we know that his private behavior does not justify his public reputation. There are, however, circumstances in which we may have to give someone a charitable warning. But all tale-bearing and mischief-making, all imprudent revelations of another’s secret, all sowing of discord or exciting of suspicion are quite wrong, and are altogether incompatible with a true life in Christ. Not only do we separate ourselves from Him in the doing of these injuries, but we widen the breach inasmuch as these injuries are done to Him. We make public the very sins of which He has taken the shame upon Himself.
The really spiritual man is known by the kindness of his speech and still more by the kindness of his silence. He is always ready to find pity and sympathy for everyone. “To understand all is to forgive all,” and no man who knows his own weakness and his complete dependence upon God’s grace in the avoiding of sin can ever be harsh with the faults of his neighbor. Even as human beings we should have a “fellow-feeling” for one another; but as Christians and members of Christ, our mutual sympathy should be much deeper.
Solicitude for the corporal necessities of our neighbor has always been characteristic of the fervent Christian. Whenever Christianity has taken root, it soon bears fruit in the form of countless organizations for the relief of the poor and the sick. The number of religious congregations which have such work as the external purpose of their organization (the primary purpose must always be the sanctification of the individual members) is quite striking. There is no need to draw the attention of the laity to this type of work. The Society of St. Vincent de Paul and the Legion of Mary are world famous. What we would like to emphasize here is the need for supernaturalizing such work, and the fact that the primary purpose of such organizations is the individual sanctification of their members. This latter fact is too often overlooked; and a lot of charitable work is done without real Christian charity as its motive. One can seek oneself in such work just as easily as in any other form of activity. A taste for publicity, for domination, for patronage, and for many other forms of self-exaltation can seek its gratification even in Catholic Action. The true Christian seeks Christ; he tries to let himself be used as an instrument by Christ, to continue the charitable work of His days in Palestine when He went about doing good; and he tries also to serve the same Christ in the person of His members.
Christianity is really a sort of continuation of the Incarnation. Each of us is asked to give our Lord a further chance of satisfying His love for God and His love for men by living in us, and by performing in partnership with us, acts of charity—both to God directly in heaven and for His creatures here on earth. And our Lord wishes also to use us as a means of letting others show their love for Him through the things they do for us. We should note this double aspect of Christian charity. It should be done by Christ and by us in partnership with Him, to Christ and to His members united in Him. It will not be till we see Him face to face in heaven that we will perceive the full depth of meaning in His prayer to the Father at the Last Supper: “That the love wherewith thou has loved me may be in them, and I in them” (Jn 27:26).
If we consider fraternal charity as a means of advancing in union with our Lord, we shall find in Him the model to which we must conform. If we truly desire to be one with Him we must obviously try to love our fellow men as He did. Now, that includes even our enemies. He forgave them all. He died for the very men who crucified Him. He prayed for them on the cross in the agony they caused Him. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). This forgiveness is not always easy in practice. Yet its importance and its urgency can be gauged from the fact that our Lord puts this amazing request on our lips in the Our Father: ‘Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them who trespass against us.” He makes us set as a limit to God’s forgiveness of our sins against Himself, the same limit that we put to our forgiveness of our neighbors’ faults against us. And He adds: “For if you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences” (Mt 6:14, 15).
This is an essential point in the spiritual life; and one that calls for frequent effort and watchfulness. We must keep a careful control over our thoughts to prevent any tendency to brood over the wrongs—real or imaginary—that have been done to us, and to avoid wishing evil to the person responsible or even taking deliberate pleasure in his misfortunes. When we are wronged, our external behavior has to be regulated by prudence, but we must be prompt to pray for the wrongdoer, as was Christ Himself. Few things make us so dear to God as this. And those whose love for our Lord is seeking expression can find no better expression than praying for and serving their enemies.
Of our duty in charity to assist our neighbor in temporal matters, there is no need to write here at any length. All that we do for him is done for Christ, and, insofar as almsgiving is concerned, we must remember that once our own reasonable needs and those of our dependents are satisfied, we are only stewards for the remainder of our property and are under an obligation to assist our neighbor out of what is superfluous. This form of Christian charity is so well known that sometimes people think that it is, if not the only, at least its principal form. And modern society tends to judge the value of a man’s life by the amount of good he does for his fellow men. The true Christian measure depends rather on what He has done for God.
But the result of popular misconception is that one often forgets that our principal duty to our neighbor is a supernatural one, and that the principal way of satisfying that duty is also a supernatural one. The most destitute man in the world is the man in the state of mortal sin. He cannot rise out of his sin without the help of a grace, which he cannot merit strictly for himself. The greatest work then of fraternal charity is that by which grace is obtained from God for those in mortal sin. And grace is only obtained by a spiritual life. The greatest service we can render our neighbor is to sanctify ourselves. In doing so, we become, if not a power house, at least a transformer station in the network of the distribution of grace. Elsewhere in this book, the words of Pius XI are quoted, showing the value of the contemplative life for the mission fields. The principle can be applied quite widely, and there is no limit to the supernatural service we can render our neighbor by a life of faith, hope, charity, humility, and abandonment to the will of God.
This principle of Christian charity, according to which Christ is replaced by His members, will be of extensive service in sanctifying the daily routine for those who wish to live a better and higher life. Our Lord can always be found in our neighbor and loved and served in him. At first sight it might seem that the obligation arising from this identification of Christ with our fellow men is endless, but in practice it is by no means so unreasonable. Insofar as all mankind are concerned, the best service we can render them is to sanctify ourselves and to pray for them. It will be noted that the Church always prays in the plural: “pray for us”; we should include all men in such prayers. As is elsewhere pointed out in this book, every single step that any soul takes on the road to sanctification needs supernatural grace; all other instruments of sanctification—preaching, example, organization, reading—are of no avail unless the soul obtains the grace to cooperate with them. This grace has to be obtained by prayer and sacrifice. It is true that the work of prayer and sacrifice has already been done by our Savior Jesus Christ, and His Mother Mary. But God wishes to associate men with Him in His work of salvation, and so He makes us agents in the application of the fruits of our Lord’s redeeming work.
Every single thing we do during the day, which is according to the will of God can be used to bring down grace on men. The more anything runs contrary to our own will, the more closely does it resemble the cross by which Christ redeemed men. By willingly accepting such a share of the cross when He sends it to us, we lighten His load and bring down His grace on men. There are few works of fraternal charity so valuable as this. It has the further advantage, that we do not see the good we do, and hence the temptation to vainglory is not so obvious.
Here we would like to draw attention to a principle which is involved in all works connected with the apostolate or with the service of God. Apart from the direct praise of God, most works serve Him more or less indirectly; they have some purpose, some result to be achieved—which is intended as a means to glorify Him. Let us suppose that it is the conversion of some particular soul: and to simplify the issue, let us suppose that we have a clear duty to work for such a soul’s conversion. The principle to be noted is this: God does not put a premium on success. In fact, in His service failure is often the greatest triumph. In the particular case under consideration, our efforts to serve Him lose nothing of their value in His eyes when they do not meet with success. Their value as acts of love and service for Him is quite independent of their outcome. It is true, especially where we have a clear duty to strive for a particular purpose, that we have to use prudence in choosing means which are likely to achieve that purpose. But that is the end of our obligation. It is God who giveth the increase, and if He does not give it, that is His business.
It very often happens that the real fruit of our labors is gathered elsewhere. Some priest, perhaps, wearing himself out in a non-Catholic district and failing to produce any conversions, may be drawing souls into the Church in great numbers out in the mission field as the result of his apparently fruitless labors. Such a form of apostolate is quite common and is obviously the only way which at present is available for the conversion of Russia. If, therefore, the efforts of ardent apostolic zeal are frustrated in one particular place, that is no reason to be despondent; if they are done according to God’s will, they will surely bear fruit somewhere. It must never be forgotten that the principle of all fruitfulness is that given by Christ to His apostles: “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine and you are the branches; he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth fruit.” And it is important to remember how this fruitfulness is increased: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman: every branch . . . that beareth fruit, he will purge it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” Very often apparent failure in our work for souls is nothing else than this purging action of the Father, to make us bring forth more fruit elsewhere. We are always doing enough for souls if we abide in Christ.
To some souls, our Lord makes it clear that He has a special work for them to do. Occasionally, He asks a soul to become a victim for the salvation of others. When such a vocation is certain, one has a quite new field for God’s service. Our own view is that in this matter one should wait for God to make His will clear; and such a form of apostolic work should never be undertaken without the consent and authorization of some prudent director. Anyone who takes such a work upon himself without an indication of God’s will may be guilty of pride and presumption and may find that he is left to carry a heavy burden without the extra grace that lightens such a burden. We repeat, that as long as one abides in Christ by doing the will of God, that is ample.
It is not by the extraordinary but rather by ordinary things that we shall sanctify ourselves and help others. The saints become saints by using the opportunities we neglect and even despise. Without going to seek out our neighbor, we can still find many opportunities of exercising fraternal charity in the course of our day’s work. In everyone with whom we come in contact during the day, Christ can be found, Christ can be loved, Christ can be served. Faith, of course, is required, and so is courage. But so also is prudence. Christ is to be served in each of our neighbors according to the particular circumstances of our relations with each one. For example, a teacher can see Christ in all his pupils. What he does for each boy is done not only for Christ, but is done to Christ. What then, about punishment? In the case of a boy who really deserves and needs punishment, the teacher is dealing with a sick member of Christ, and his position is something the same as that of a doctor or a dentist. He has to cause pain in doing good, and where it is his clear duty to punish, it would be a neglect of his duty to Christ not to do so. Note what we say “where it is his clear duty.” For if justice be a virtue, so also is mercy. And there is a very important general principle that should influence all our relations with our neighbors—especially with those who are young. The measure and the manner in which religion influences a man’s life—the interest and zeal with which he pursues a spiritual life—depend very much on the habitual notion that he has of God. Now most of us form our notion of God from our experiences with those whom we meet frequently, especially from the treatment we receive from our parents and teachers. If they are harsh and “just” and strict, we find it difficult to be convinced that God is a loving Father and a merciful Savior.
We all know the cringing, fearful way in which a dog shrinks away from our caresses if he has been previously ill-treated by others. One meets children whose arm goes up to ward off a blow as soon as anyone in authority approaches them. The same sort of attitude is often found with regard to God. He is thought of as a hard master, overexacting and meticulous, setting traps for His creatures, and almost only anxious to catch them in wrongdoing. No true love of God is possible with such a concept in one’s mind. Yet such ideas can exist, and we must take care that we are not responsible for their formation. That is one reason why, if we must err in dealing with our neighbor, we ought to err on the side of mercy and kindness rather than of justice and rigor.
Kindness and mercy should characterize all our dealings with our neighbor. In the course of our daily labor, we may have to work with people, to work for them, to work under them, or to work in charge of them. In all cases we have a duty to do, certain responsibilities to remember. These we must observe conscientiously. But all should be done with kindness. If we have to refuse a request for help because of the prior claims of duty, we should do so kindly and gently. And, if we truly seek God, we shall not refuse to help when we are free to do so. It is said that the willing horse gets all the work. Even if that be so, the willing Christian will also get all the reward. But Christian charity, while demanding that we help our neighbor, also puts a limit to his claims. We have, for example, to look after the needs of our own soul first of all; and though on occasions we should never allow private devotions to come before the assistance of our neighbor, yet in the long run we must insist upon sufficient time and energy being left for our spiritual life.
This can be difficult in family life. The series of calls upon one’s time from members of the family, from visitors, and from the hundred and one other sources of interference with one’s plans is almost endless. We may have to draw a line somewhere if we wish to keep up regular practices such as prayer and reading. Still, we should be on our guard against feeling that time devoted to family functions and to family fun is wasted. There is a proper measure in everything; and each has a right to his own private life for some part of the day. But those who live with their family need have no scruple in spending much of their time in sharing the life of the family.
If they maintain a healthy interior life, they can find Christ in their family and be united to Him, even in family fun. To make a fourth at family bridge, to help to entertain some guests, to take a walk with one’s parents and one’s children—all such things can be more meritorious and more pleasing to God than private prayer or even, say, a visit to the Blessed Sacrament. A saint should be a very easy person to live with. Unfortunately, those who try to be saints are often quite the opposite. Might we refer them to the example of St. Jane Frances de Chantal? While she was still living in the world, St. Francis de Sales became her director. The result of his influence may be gathered from the comment of one of her servants: “The first director that Madame had made her pray three times a day, and we were all put out; but the Monsignor of Geneva (St. Francis de Sales) makes her pray all day long and no one is troubled.
Everyone who wishes to lead a spiritual life in the world should read The Introduction to the Devout Life by St. Francis de Sales. The style may seem somewhat old-fashioned, and minor details of his practical direction may have to be tempered to fit in with changed social conditions, but there is no better book for the laity, and it has the particular merit of imparting that spiritual outlook which best accommodates itself to the needs of family life. It is urgent, at the moment, that Catholics should sanctify the family and the life of the family, for the influence of Christianity upon society depends upon its influence upon the family. Insofar as the family ceases to be Christian, Christian civilization will approach its end.
Two particular aspects of familiar relationships call for brief notice. The mutual relations of husband and wife will be dealt with in a separate chapter; here we would draw attention to the extensive possibilities of exercising Christian virtue and Christian perfection in the relations between parents and children. After their mutual obligations to one another, the next obligation on parents is towards their children. It is probably safe to say that the greater part of the life of the ordinary man and woman is occupied with these duties. What a woman has done for her children can be seen in her face. She has given of herself, of her very substance; she has renounced her young beauty and natural comfort; the very skin of her hands shows her devotion. It is true the woman who is a mother has a mellow beauty and a royal dignity that no other woman can achieve. But her sacrifice of herself is none the less courageous for all that. What we have always seems far more precious than what we may achieve. And the extent of the sacrifice involved can be measured by the dread and the repugnance that the modem woman feels for making it. In truth, both in the spiritual and in the temporal order, it is only by dying to oneself that one can give life to others.
There can be no question that parenthood may call for heroic devotion. This is evident even if one only thinks of the continual tie that young children are to their parents, who can hardly leave their home without the anxious feeling that they must be back again quickly. Their pleasures are curtailed drastically. Time and money are at a premium, and modern life has little sympathy with those who recognize all their obligations to their children. The modern often view the mother whose main interest lies in her family with amusement, if not with contempt. One can only thank Providence that women have an inexhaustible reserve of courage to meet these difficulties and overcome them. To their courage there is to be added the grace of the sacrament of matrimony by which parents can receive a share of our Lord’s own strength and courage and love, for dealing with all the problems which arise from devotion to their family.
To illustrate the general by the particular, consider for a moment the sacrifices that parents have to face to make Christmas all that tradition says it should be for their children. The expense, the worry, the trouble, the patience, the fatigue, the bitterness of financial limitations to one’s power of gratifying a child’s dream—the list is endless. Think alone of what is involved in Christmas shopping where a large family and a small income are involved. And the thought can easily arise, especially for the “detached” Christian: “Is it worth it all?” Of course, it is worth it all. It is done in memory of Christ; it is done to build up an idea of Christ; it is done for Christ; it is done to Christ! “Amen, I say to you whatsoever you did to these My least brethren, you did it to Me.” When the New Year brings an end to those halcyon days for the children, this service done to Christ is the consolation that the parents should have in facing the expense.
In view of a life of things of this sort—who can say that holiness is not possible in family life? Ought not the question rather to be, how is family life possible without heroic sanctity? There is no need to labor the possibilities of living a life of service of Christ by devoting oneself to one’s family. St. Joseph, the greatest saint in heaven after Jesus and Mary, sanctified himself in no other way. He should be the model of all. If one omits the visits of the angels to warn him of special circumstances, there is nothing extraordinary in his life except his love of Jesus and Mary. His life is full of lessons for the discerning. He governed the Holy Family, although he was the least gifted of the three both by nature and by grace. He was an ordinary workman and never achieved any noteworthy success. He did no miracles; he performed no extraordinary penances. He spoke no word that came down to us; he lived only a generation before the wonder-working apostles who took up our Lord’s work of preaching and building up the Church. He stands silently beside that master of heroic penance, St. John the Baptist. Compared with these great figures he seems almost a nonentity, and yet his fame is still growing today in the Church, of which he is the universal patron and its greatest saint after the Queen of Saints.
The other point to which we would refer is the place of friendship in the spiritual life. In quite a number of spiritual books, written for religious, one will find a condemnation, on various grounds, of particular friendships. From the point of view of the perfection of charity in the life of a religious community, such particular friendships are very objectionable. The preference for one means to some extent an aversion for another; it makes impossible the ideal of regulating all our relations by the spirit of faith so that Christ should be found as easily in one person as in another. It interferes with the custody of the heart and with that perfection of detachment which should be the aim of every religious. And the origin of such friendship is by no means always to be found in Christian charity. But a lay person reading such books may easily form a false standard for his own life.
Even among religious orders friendship has had its defenders, and the Cistercian tradition that shone forth in St. Bernard can be found in St. Aelred’s famous work on Spiritual Friendship, which has appeared in English with an introduction by Fr. Hugh Talbot, O.C.R. To quote one line as an example: “Here we are, just we two; and Christ, I hope, is between us.” To this book we refer those who would know how instrumental friendship can be in reaching perfection.
People living in the world are in quite a different position from religious. What might be an unnecessary luxury for religious could be for them a necessary aid. There are, of course, friendships of the wrong sort that lead one away from God; but there are friendships which can be of great spiritual profit, if they are properly referred to the love of Christ. The Imitation of Christ gives us the true ideal, putting these words in the mouth of our Lord: “In Me the love of thy friend must stand; and for Me he is to be loved, whoever he be that appears to thee good, and is very dear to thee. Without Me no friendship is of any strength nor will be durable nor is that love true and pure, of which I am not the author.” Thomas à Kempis, it is true, does demand a high degree of mortification in this matter, but one cannot apply the maxims of the religious life in their entirety to the life in the world. For some, friendship is a necessity, for others it might be a hindrance. Our love for our friend must be subordinate to our love for our Lord; and He may, perhaps, test our loyalty. All that we wish to do here is to reject the idea that the love of a creature is incompatible with the love of God. The Scripture tells us: “A faithful friend is a strong defence and he that hath found him hath found a treasure. Nothing can be compared to a faithful friend, and no weight of gold and silver is able to countervail the goodness of his fidelity. A faithful friend is the medicine of life and immortality, and they that fear the Lord, shall find him” (Sir 6:14–16). The idea that our Lady loved St. Joseph will come as a shock to many people, and yet she must have done so; otherwise she would not have been the perfect wife. One wonders whether popular misconceptions in this matter are the cause or the effect of the fact that most painters represent St. Joseph as an old man. That he was so much older than our Lady is a conventional assumption rather than a proved fact. Modern writers consider him to have been much younger than he is generally represented.
Our Lord Himself felt a need for His special friends. St.John is immortal as “The disciple whom our Lord loved”; Martha and Mary were loved by our Lord, and He sought the comfort and consolation of their house. The death of Lazarus, their brother, wrung tears from His eyes, and His love for him led to one of His most striking miracles. Even the saints have found profit in friendship; the association of St. Francis de Sales and St.Jane Frances de Chantal is a classical example.
But, as we said, the subordination of such love to one’s love of God may have to be proved and tested. Even our Lady and St. Joseph had their trials when the mystery of the Incarnation became obvious to St. Joseph and had not yet been explained to him. Our Lord Himself set us an example when, as a boy, because He must be about His Father’s business, He left Mary and Joseph, who sought Him, sorrowing. The lesson is clear: No human friendship must interfere with our Father’s business.
The details of fraternal charity cannot all be discussed here, but we must return to the fundamental principle that true Christian charity is supernatural in its motive and in its purpose. To sanctify ourselves and to pray for our neighbor is our first duty to him. We can, if we feel called to do so, go further. We can offer our sufferings in atonement for his sins; we can offer our Lord love in reparation for the coldness of our neighbor. No one has such a claim upon our pity as the sinner; for without the grace of God, he cannot even repent of his sin, yet he has condemned himself to an eternal fate that is too appalling to consider. This need of sinners for our help should be ever present to us; there are few dispositions which put us so completely in harmony with Christ, who lived and suffered and died for sinners.
Closely allied with the needs of sinners are the needs of those outside the faith at home and in the mission fields. Both classes should have a permanent place in our prayers, and it is significant to note that even to the apostles, our Lord suggested prayer as the first means of converting souls. “Pray ye the Lord of the harvest; that he send laborers into his vineyard” (Mt 9:38).
This is the purpose of true Christian charity, to save men from sin and to unite them to God. As Fr. Petitot says in his book St. Thérèse of Lisieux (which will be of tremendous help in giving the reader a true notion of the value of spiritual works): “One of the most widespread and pernicious errors is to imagine that the merit of our life is proportionate to our labors and activity. In reality, the merit of our life and the efficacy of our apostolate is proportionate not to the amount of trouble we take, but to our holiness.”
And the foundation of true charity is our union in Christ. To quote St. Augustine:
Extend thy charity over the entire earth if thou wilt love Christ, for the members of Christ are to be found everywhere in the world. If thou lovest only a part thou art divided; if thou art divided, thou art not in the Body; if thou art not in the Body, thou art not under the Head. . . . What is the use of believing if thou dost blaspheme? Thou adorest Him as Head, and thou dost blaspheme Him in His Body. He loves His Body. Thou canst cut thyself off from the Body, but the Head does not detach itself from its Body. ‘Thou dost honor Me in vain,’ He cries from Heaven, ‘thou dost honor Me in vain!’ If someone wished to kiss thy cheek, but insisted at the same time on trampling thy feet; if with his nailed boots he were to crush thy feet as he tries to hold thy head and kiss thee, wouldst thou not interrupt his expressions of respect and cry out: what art thou doing, man? Thou art trampling upon me. . . . It is for this reason that before He ascended into heaven our Lord Jesus Christ recommended to us His Body, by which He was to remain on earth. For He foresaw that many would pay Him homage because of His glory in heaven, but that their homage would be vain, so long as they despise His members on earth.
For when we reject the claim of our neighbor on our charity, we reject Christ; we even reject ourselves, for we, too, are members of Christ. Lack of Christian charity wounds ourselves as well as wounding Christ. The whole question is well summed up by a medieval English Cistercian, Isaac of Stella:
Therefore, my brethren, let this be your manner of life . . . to converse in thought and desire with Christ in our heavenly country, and in our earthly pilgrimage to refuse no service of charity for the sake of Christ. Let us follow the Lord Christ in heaven in our dealings with the Father, uniting ourselves with Him in the quiet of contemplation. And let us follow Christ here below in our dealings with our neighbor, by extending our activity, multiplying ourselves, by making ourselves all things to all men.
Let us despise nothing that is done for Christ, let our thirst be for one alone and be occupied with one alone, where Christ is one; and let us be ready to serve all, where Christ is many.