Man's duty towards his neighbor is embraced in the
practice of charity and mercy. Read Holy Scriptures
and you will appreciate the importance of these
virtues. The writings of the prophets, Apostles, and
evangelists abound with counsels concerning them.
God teaches us in Isaias that one of the duties of
justice is charity to our neighbor. Thus when the
Jews exclaimed: "Why have we fasted, and thou hast
not regarded; have we humbled our souls, and thou
hast not taken notice?" God answers: "In the day of
your fast your own will is found, and you exact of
all your debtors. You fast for debates and strife,
and strike with the fist wickedly. Is this such a
fast as I have chosen? Is not this rather the fast
that I have chosen – loose the bands of wickedness;
undo the bundles that oppress; let them that are
broken go free; and break asunder every burden. Deal
thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and
harborless into thy house. When thou shalt see one
naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then
shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear, and give
thee rest continually, and fill thy soul with
brightness." (Is. 58). The prophet continues to the
end of the chapter to declare the blessings with
which God will reward this charity to our neighbor.
Behold how highly the great Apostle extols the virtue
of charity; how strongly he recommends it; how
minutely he enumerates its advantages. He gives it
the first place among the virtues, and tells us that
it is the bond of perfection, the end of the
commandments, and the fulfillment of the law, (Cf.
1Cor. 13:13; Col. 3:14; ITim. 1:5; Rom. 13:8; Gal,
It would be difficult to say more in praise
of charity. Certainly these words of the Apostle must
suffice to make you love and practice this virtue, if
you desire to be pleasing to God.
Charity was also
a favorite virtue with the beloved disciple. He
frequently mentions it in his epistles, with the
highest praise and commendation. And not only in his
writings but in his discourse did he display the same
devotedness to this virtue. So frequently did he
repeat to his disciples the touching words, "My
little children, love one another," that at last, as
St. Jerome tells us, they became somewhat weary of
always hearing the same, and asked him: Good master,
why do you always give us this one command? His
answer, says St. Jerome, was worthy of John: "Because
it is the command of the Lord; and if you do this
alone it will suffice." (De Scriptoribus Eccles.).
Without doubt, therefore, he who desires to please
God must fulfill this great precept of charity, not
only in word but also in deed, "He that hath the
substance of this world," says St. John, "and shall
see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels
from him, how doth the charity of God abide in him?
My little children, let us not love in word nor in
tongue, but in deed and in truth." (1Jn. 3:17-18).
Among the works comprised in charity to our neighbor
the following are the most important: advice,
counsel, succor, forbearance, pardon, edification.
These are so strongly linked with charity that the
practice of them indicates the progress we have made
in the practice of charity.
There are Christians
who pretend to love their neighbor, but their charity
goes no further than words. Others are willing to
give advice, but no more substantial proof of their
charity. Others will perform both these duties, but
will not refrain from resenting an injury, or will
refuse to bear with the infirmities of their
neighbor, forgetting that the Apostle tells us: "Bear
ye one another's burdens, and so you shall fulfill
the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2).
while not resenting an injury, continue to harbor it
in their hearts and will not freely pardon it.
Finally, many fulfill all these obligations, yet in
their words or conduct they fail to give their
neighbor that edification which is the most important
duty of charity. Let us diligently examine our hearts
and our actions, and learn how far we fulfill the
precepts of this virtue.
It may be said that he
who simply loves his neighbor possesses the first
degree of charity; he who gives him good counsel
possesses the second; he who assists him in poverty
or distress possesses the third; he who patiently
bears an injury possesses the fourth; he who freely
pardons it, the fifth; and he who in addition to all
these fulfills the duty of edification to his
neighbor has attained the highest degree of charity.
The works of which we have just been treating are
what are called positive acts of charity, which teach
us what we ought to do for our neighbor. Besides
these there are others, called negative duties, which
indicate what we must avoid in our intercourse with
our neighbor. Such are judging rashly, speaking evil,
using abusive or insulting language, injuring his
honor or reputation, and giving scandal by words or
evil counsel. If you would fulfill the law of
charity, avoid all these.
To reduce to practice what we have said, let your
love for your neighbor be like that of a mother for
her child. See with what devotion a good mother cares
for her child; how prudently she counsels him in
danger; how faithfully she assists him in his
necessities; how ingenious she is in regard to his
faults, sometimes patiently bearing them, at other.
times justly punishing them, or again prudently
ignoring them. How earnestly she rejoices in his
prosperity; how deeply she grieves at his misfortune
as if it were her own! How zealous she is for his
honor and advancement; how fervently she prays for
him; how cheerfully she denies herself to give to
him; how utterly she forgets herself in her care of
him! Your charity would be perfect did it resemble
this. Though you may not attain this degree, you must
nevertheless aspire to it, for the higher you aim the
more noble will be your conduct.
doubtless urge that you cannot feel such affection
for one who is a stranger to you. But you should not
regard your neighbor as a stranger. Behold in him
rather the image of God, the work of His divine
hands, and a living member of Christ. (Cf. Rom.
12:5). Hence St. Paul tells us that when we sin
against our neighbor we sin against Christ. (Cf. ICor.
8:12). Look on your neighbor, therefore, not as a man
but as Christ Himself, or one of His living members;
for though he is not so in body, he is truly so by
participation in the spirit of Christ, and by the
reward which is promised to us, for Christ assures us
that He will consider as done to Himself all that we
do to our neighbor.
Think of the affection which
ties of blood establish between creatures, and blush
to let nature influence you more powerfully than
grace. You will doubtless urge that your relatives
are descended with you from the same ancestor, and
that the same blood flows in your veins. Remember,
however, that there are closer and stronger bonds
uniting us as brethren in Christ. In God we have one
Father; in the Church one mother; and in Jesus Christ
one Lord and Saviour. One faith springs from the same
source which enlightens all Christians and
distinguishes them from the rest of men.
object of our hope is the same kingdom, where we
shall have but one heart and one soul. Baptism has
made us children of the same Father, brothers and
heirs of the same inheritance. Our souls are
nourished with the same Food, the adorable Body of
our Lord Jesus Christ, who makes us one with Himself.
Finally, we are united in a participation of the same
Holy Spirit, who dwells in us by faith alone or by
the union of faith and grace, communicating to us
life and strength. Behold the union which exists
between the members of the same body, however diverse
their functions, because they are animated by one
soul! How much greater should be the union between
the faithful who are animated by the same Divine
Spirit, the Holy Ghost Himself!
But, above all, ever keep before your eyes the
incomparable example of Our Saviour's love for us.
Why did He love us with so much tenderness, devotion,
and generosity, if not to encourage us by His
example, and oblige us by His benefits faithfully to
fulfill the precept which He has imposed upon us? "A
new commandment I give unto you," were His parting
words to His Apostles on the night before He
suffered; "that you love one another, as I have loved
you." (Jn. 13:34). Having treated this subject at
greater length in a work on Prayer and Meditation, I
would refer the reader to it for a more complete
development of this virtue.