On Charity to our Neighbor


"Charity" - by Adolphe-William Bouguereau

 

For with the same Measure that you shall Mete Withal,
it shall be Measured to you again - Luke 6:38

 

On Charity to Our Neighbor

by Saint Alphonsus Liguori

In this day's Gospel we find, that Jesus Christ once said to His Disciples: "Be ye Merciful, as your Father also is Merciful" - Luke 6:36. As your Heavenly Father is Merciful towards you, so must you be Merciful to others. He then proceeds to explain 'How', and in 'What', we should Practice Holy Charity to our Neighbor. "Judge not", He adds, "and you shall not be Judged" - Luke 6:37. Here, He Speaks-against those who do not Abstain-from Judging Rashly of their Neighbors. "Forgive, and you shall be Forgiven" - ibid. He tells us that we cannot obtain Pardon of the Offences we have offered-to God, unless we Pardon those who have Offended us. "Give, and it shall be Given to you" - Luke 6:38. By these Words, He Condemns those who Wish that God should Grant whatsoever they Desire, and are, at the same-time, Niggardly and Avaricious towards the Poor. In conclusion He declares, that the Measure-of Charity which we use to our Neighbor, shall be the same that God will use towards us. Let us then see how we should Practice Charity to our Neighbor; we ought to Practice it:

First (1st), in our 'Thoughts';
Secondly (2nd), in 'Words';
Thirdly (3rd), by 'Works'.

 

First (1st) Point
How we should Practice Charity to our Neighbor in our 'Thoughts'

"And this Commandment we have from God, that he who Loveth God, Love also his Brother" - 1John 4:21. The same Precept, then, which 'Obliges' us to Love God, 'Commands' us to Love our Neighbor. Saint Catherine of Genoa, said one day to the Lord: "My God, thou dost wish me to Love my Neighbor; but I can Love no one but Thee". The Lord said to her in answer: My Child, he that Loves Me, Loves whatsoever I Love. Hence Saint John says: "If any Man say: I Love God; and Hateth his Brother, he is a Liar" - 1John 4:20. And Jesus Christ has 'Declared', that He will 'Receive', as-done-to Himself, the Charity which we Practice-towards the least-of His Brethren.

Hence we must, in the First Place, 'Practice' Fraternal Charity in our 'Thoughts', by never Judging Evil of any one, without certain Foundation. "Judge not, and you shall not be Judged". He who Judges without 'Certain' Grounds, that another has Committed a Mortal Sin, is Guilty of a Grievous Fault. If he only 'Rashly Suspects' another of a Mortal Sin, he commits at-least a Venial Offence. But, to 'Judge' or 'Suspect' Evil of another, is not Sinful, when we have 'Certain' Grounds for the Judgment or Suspicion. However, he that has True Charity, Thinks-well of all, and Banishes-from his Mind, both 'Judgments' and 'Suspicions'. "Charity thinketh no Evil" - 1Corinthians 13:5. The Heads-of Families, are Obliged-to 'Suspect' the Evil which may be done by those who are under their Care. Certain Fathers and foolish Mothers, Knowingly-allow their Sons to frequent Bad Company and Houses, in which there are Young Females, and Permit their Daughters to be alone-with Men. They endeavor-to Justify their Neglect-of their Children, by saying: I do not wish to entertain Bad Thoughts of others. O Folly of Parents! They are in such cases, 'Bound' to-Suspect the Evil which may happen; and, in order to Prevent it, they should Correct their Children. But they that are not Entrusted-with the Care-of others, ought to Abstain Carefully from Inquiring-after the Defects and Conduct of others.

When Sickness, Loss of Property, or any Misfortune, happens-to a Neighbor, Charity requires that we Regret, at least with the Superior Part of the Soul, the Evil that has Befallen him. I say, with the Superior Part of the Soul; for, when we hear-of the Misfortunes of an Enemy, our Inferior Appetite appears-to Feel Delight; but, as-long-as we do not Consent-to that Delight, we are not Guilty of Sin. However, it is sometimes Lawful to Desire, or to be Pleased-at, the Temporal Evil of another, when we expect that it will be Productive-of Spiritual Good to himself, or to others. For example: it is Lawful, according to Saint Gregory, to Rejoice-at the Sickness or Misfortune of an Obstinate and Scandalous Sinner, and even to Desire that he may fall-into Sickness or Poverty, in order that he may Cease-to lead a Wicked Life, or at least to Scandalize others. Behold the Words of Saint Gregory: "Evenire plerumque potest, ut non amissa charitate, et inimici nostri ruina lætificet, et ejus gloria sine invidiæ, culpa contristet; cum et, ruente eo, quosdam bene erigi credimus, et proficiente illo, plerosque injuste opprimi formidamus". But, except in such cases, it is Unlawful to Rejoice-at the Loss-of a Neighbor. It is also Contrary-to Charity, to feel Regret-at a Neighbor's Prosperity, merely because it is Useful-to him. This is Precisely, the Sin of Envy. The Envious are, according to the Wise Man, on the Side-of the Devil, who, because he could not bear to see Men in Heaven, from which he had been Banished, Tempted Adam to Rebel-against God. "But by the Envy of the Devil, Death came into the World; and they follow him, that are of his Side" - Wisdom 2:24-25. Let us pass-to the Next Point.

 

Second point
On the Charity which we ought to Practice towards our Neighbor in 'Words'

With regard to the Practice of Fraternal Charity in 'Words', we ought, in the First Place, and above all, to Abstain-from all Detraction. "The Tale-bearer shall Defile his own Soul, and shall be Hated by all". As they who always speak-well of others are Loved by all, so he who Detracts his Neighbor, is Hateful to all - to God and to Men, who, although they take Delight in Listening-to Detraction, Hate the Detractor, and are on their Guard against him. Saint Bernard, says, that the Tongue-of a Detracter is a Three (3) Edged Sword. "Gladius equidem anceps, immo triplex est lingua detractoris". With One (1) of these Edges, it Destroys the Reputation of a Neighbor; with the Second (2nd), it Wounds the Souls of those who Listen-to the Detraction; and with the Third (3rd), it Kills the Soul of the Detractor, by Depriving him of the Divine Grace. You will say: I have spoken of my Neighbor, only in Secret to my Friends, and have made them Promise not to mention to others, what I told them. This Excuse will not Stand: no, you are, as the Lord says, the Serpent that Bites-in-Silence. "If a Serpent Bite-in-Silence, he is nothing better that Backbiteth Secretly" - Ecclesiastes 10:11. Your 'Secret' Defamation, 'Bites' and 'Destroys' the Character of a Neighbor. They who Indulge-in the Vice of Detraction, are Chastised, not only in the Next, but also in this Life; because their Uncharitable Tongues are the cause-of a Thousand (1000) Sins, by creating Discord in Whole Families, and in Entire Villages. Thomas Cantaprensis relates, that he knew a certain Detractor, who, at the End-of Life, became Raging Mad, and Died Lacerating his Tongue with his Teeth. The Tongue of another Detractor, who was going to speak Ill of Saint Malachy, instantly Swelled, and was filled-with Worms. And, after Seven (7) Days, the Unhappy Man Died Miserably.

Detraction is committed, not only when we take-away a Neighbor's Character, by Imputing-to him a Sin which he has not Committed, or Exaggerating his Guilt, but also when we make known to-others, any of his Secret Sins. Some Persons, when they know anything Injurious to a Neighbor, appear to Suffer, as it were, the Pains of Childbirth, until they tell it to others. When the Sin of a Neighbor is Secret and Grievous, it is a Mortal Sin to mention it to others, without a Just Cause. I say, without a Just Cause; for, to make known to a Parent the Fault of a Child, that he may Correct him and Prevent a Repetition-of the Fault, is not Sinful, but is an Act of Virtue; for, according to Saint Thomas, to let others know the Sins of a Neighbor is Unlawful, when it is done to Destroy his Reputation, but not when it is done-for his Good, or for the Good of others.

They who Listen-to Detraction, and afterwards Go-and-Tell what was said to the Person whose Character had been Injured, have to Render a Great Account-to God. These are called 'Talebearers'. Oh! how Great is the Evil produced-by these Tale Bearing Tongues, that are thus employed-in Sowing Discord. They are Objects-of God's Hatred. "The Lord Hateth him that Soweth Discord among Brethren" - Proverbs 6:16,19. Should the Person who has been Defamed speak-of his Defamer, the Injury which he has received may, perhaps, give him some Claim-to Compassion. But why should you relate what you have heard? Is it to Create Ill-Will and Hatred, that shall be the cause-of a Thousand (1000) Sins? If, from this day forward, you ever hear anything Injurious to a Neighbor, follow the Advice-of the Holy Ghost. "Hast thou heard a Word against thy Neighbor? let it Die with thee". You should not only keep it Shut-up in your Heart, but you must let it Die within you. He that is only Shut-up, may Escape and be-Seen; but he that is Dead, cannot leave the Grave. When, then, you know anything Injurious to your Neighbor, you ought to be Careful not to give any Intimation of it to others by Words, by Motions-of the Head, or by any other Sign. Sometimes Greater Injury is done to others by certain Singular Signs and Broken Words, than by a Full Statement of their Guilt; because these 'Hints' make Persons suspect-that the Evil is greater-than it really is.

In your Conversations, be careful not to give Pain to any Companion, either Present or Absent, by turning him into Ridicule. You may say: I do it through Jest; but, such Jests are Contrary-to Charity. All things, therefore, says Jesus Christ, "that you would that Men should do to you, do you also unto them" - Matthew 7:12. Would you like to be Treated-with Derision before others? Give up, then, the Practice-of Ridiculing your Neighbors. Abstain also from Contending-about useless Trifles. Sometimes, certain Contests about mere Trifles, grow so-warm, that they end-in Quarrels and Injurious Words. Some Persons are so full of the Spirit of Contradiction, that they Controvert what others say, without any Necessity, and Solely-for the Sake-of Contention, and thus Violate Charity. "Strive not", says the Holy Ghost, "in matters which do not concern thee" - Ecclesiastes 11:9. But they will say: I only defend Reason; I cannot bear to hear Assertions which are contrary to Reason. In answer to these Defenders-of Reason, Cardinal Bellarmine says, that an Ounce of Charity is better than a Hundred (100) Loads-of Reason. In Conversation, particularly when the Subject of it is Unimportant, State your Opinion, if you wish to take-part-in the Discourse, and then keep yourself in Peace, and be on your Guard against Obstinacy, in defending your own Opinion. In such Contests, it is always better to yield. B. Egidius used to say, that he who gives-up, Conquers; because he is Superior in Virtue and Preserves Peace, which is far-more Valuable than a Victory, in such Contests. Saint Joseph Calasanctius was accustomed to say, that he who Loves Peace never Contradicts any one.

Thus, Dearly Beloved Brethren, if you Wish to be Loved by God, and by Men, endeavor always to Speak-well of all. And, should you happen to hear a Person speak Ill of a Neighbor, be careful not to Encourage his Uncharitableness, nor to show any Curiosity to hear the Faults of others. If you do, you will be Guilty of the same Sin, which the Detractor commits. "Hedge-in thy Ears with Thorns", says Ecclesiasticus 28:28, "and hear not a Wicked Tongue". When you hear any one taking-away the Character of another, place-around your Ears a Hedge-of Thorns, that Detraction may not enter. For this purpose it is necessary, at least, to show that the Discourse is not Pleasing to you. This may be done by remaining Silent, by putting-on a Sorrowful Countenance, by casting-down the Eyes, or turning your Face in another direction. In a Word, Act, says Saint Jerome, in such a way, that the Detractor, seeing your Unwillingness to Listen-to him, may Learn to be more-Guarded for the Future, against the Sin of Detraction. "Discat detractor, um et video non libenter audire, non facile detrahere". And when it is in your Power to do it, it will be a Great Act of Charity, to Defend the Character-of the Persons who have been Defamed. The Divine Spouse, wishes that the Words of His Beloved be a 'Veil-of Scarlet'. "Thy Lips are as a Scarlet Lace" - Songs 4:3. That is, as Theodoret explains this Passage, Her Words should be dictated-by Charity - (a Scarlet Lace) - that they may cover, as-much-as possible, the Defects of others, at least by Excusing their 'Intentions', when their 'Acts' cannot be Excused. "If" says Bernard, "you cannot Excuse the Act, Excuse the Intention". It was a Proverb among the Nuns of the 'Convent of Saint Teresa', that, in the Presence-of their Holy Mother, their Reputation was Secure, because they knew she would take the part-of those of whom any Fault might be mentioned.

Charity also requires that we be Meek to all, and particularly to those who are Opposed-to us. When a Person is Angry with you, and uses Injurious Language, remember that "a Mild answer breaketh Wrath" - Proverbs 15:1. Reply to him with Meekness, and you shall find that his Anger will be Instantly Appeased. But, if you Resent the Injury, and use Harsh Language, you will increase the 'Flame'; the feeling of Revenge will grow-more Violent, and you will expose yourself to the Danger of Losing your Soul, by Yielding-to an Act of Hatred, or by Breaking-out into 'Expressions', Grievously Injurious to your Neighbor. Whenever you feel the Soul Agitated-by Passion, it is better to Force yourself to remain-Silent, and to make no-Reply; for, as Saint Bernard says, an 'Eye' Clouded-with Anger, cannot distinguish between Right and Wrong. "Turbatus præ ira oculus rectum non videt". Should it happen that, in a Fit-of Passion, you have Insulted a Neighbor, Charity requires that you use every-means to Allay his Wounded Feelings, and to Remove-from his Heart, all Sentiments of Rancor towards you. The best means of making Reparation-for the Violation of Charity, is to Humble yourself to the Person, whom you have Offended. With regard to the Meekness which we should Practice towards others, I shall speak on that Subject in the Thirty-fourth (34th) Sermon, or the Sermon for the Fifth (5th) Sunday after Pentecost.

It is also an Act of Charity to-correct Sinners. Do not say that you are not a 'Superior'. Were you a 'Superior', you should be obliged-by your 'Office', to correct All those who might be under your Care; but, although you are not placed-over others, you are, as a Christian, obliged-to Fulfill the Duty-of Fraternal Correction. "He gave to every one of them, Commandment concerning his Neighbor" - Ecclesiastes. Would it not be Great Cruelty to see a Blind Man, walking-on the Brink-of a Precipice, and not Admonish him of his Danger, in order to Preserve him from Temporal Death? It would be far greater Cruelty to Neglect, for the sake-of avoiding a little Trouble, to deliver a Brother from Eternal Death.

 

Third point
On the Charity we ought to Practice towards our Neighbor by 'Works'

Some say that they Love All; but will not put themselves to any Inconvenience, in-order-to Relieve the Wants of a Neighbor. "My little children", says Saint John "let us not Love in Word, nor in Tongue, but in Deed and in Truth" - 1John 3:18. The Scripture tells us, that Alms deliver Men from Death, Cleanse them from Sin, and obtain for them the Divine Mercy and Eternal Life. "Alms delivereth from Death, and the same is that which Purgeth away Sins, and maketh to find Mercy and Life Everlasting" - Tobit 12:9. God will Relieve you in the same-manner in which you give Relief to your Neighbor. "With what Measure you shall Mete, it shall be Measured to you again" - Matthew 7:2. Hence Saint Chrysostom says, that the Exercise-of Charity to others, is the Means-of Acquiring great Gain with God. "Alms is, of all Acts, the most Lucrative". And Saint Mary Magdalene de Pazzi used to say, that she felt more-Happy in Relieving her Neighbor, than when she was Wrapt-up in Contemplation, "Because", she would add, "when I am in Contemplation, God Assists me; but in giving Relief to a Neighbor, I assist God"; for, every Act of Charity which we Exercise towards our Neighbor, God accepts as if it were done to Himself. But, on the other hand, how, as Saint John says, can he who does not-Assist a Brother in Want, be said to Love God? "He that hath the Substance of this World, and shall see his Brother in Need, and shall Shut-up his Bowels from him, how doth the Charity of God abide in him?" - 1John 3:17. By Alms is understood, not only the Distribution-of Money or other Goods, but every Succor that is given to a Neighbor, in order to Relieve his Wants.

Souls in Purgatory, 'Beloved Spouses of Jesus Christ' - by Carracci

The Throne of Mercy is the Lap of the Blessed Virgin Mary; on which sits our Savior, Jesus Christ, the Lord of Mercy. To this Throne come the Saints in Heaven, to plead for God's Mercy on the Souls in Purgatory. In this depiction, an Angel prepares to raise a Cleansed Soul from Purgatory, to Heavenly Glory in the Kingdom of God. There is nothing which gives so much Relief to those Holy Souls in Purgatory, as the Sacrifice of the Altar.

If Charity obliges us to Assist All, it Commands us still-more Strictly, to Relieve those who are in the Greatest Need; such as the Souls in Purgatory. Saint Thomas teaches, that Charity extends not only to the Living, but also to the Dead. Hence, as we ought-to Assist our Neighbors who are in this Life, so we are bound-to give Relief-to those Holy Prisoners, who are so Severely Tormented by Fire, and who are Incapable of Relieving themselves. A Deceased Monk of the Cistercian Order, appeared-to the Sacristan of his Monastery, and said to him: "Brother, assist me by your Prayers; for I can do nothing for myself". Let us, then, assist, to the Utmost-of our Power, these 'Beloved Spouses' of Jesus Christ, by Recommending them every-day to God, and by sometimes getting Mass offered-for their Repose. There is nothing which gives so much Relief-to those Holy Souls, as the Sacrifice of the Altar. They certainly will not be Ungrateful; they will in-return, Pray for you, and will obtain for you still Greater Graces, when they shall have Entered-into the Kingdom of God.

To exercise a Special Charity towards the Sick, is also very Pleasing-to God. They are Afflicted by Pains, by Melancholy, by the Fear of Death, and are sometimes Abandoned-by others. Be careful to Relieve them by Alms, or by little Presents, and to Serve them as-well-as you can, at least by Endeavoring-to Console them by your Words, and by Exhortations to Practice Resignation-to the Will of God, and to offer-to Him, all their Sufferings.

Above all, be Careful to Practice Charity, to those who are Opposed-to you. Some say: I am Grateful to all who treat me with Kindness; but I cannot Exercise Charity towards those who Persecute me. Jesus Christ says, that even Pagans know how to be Grateful-to those who do them a Service. "Do not also the Heathens do this?" - Matthew 5:47. Christian Charity consists in Wishing-well, and in doing Good to those who Hate and Injure us. "But I say to you: Love your Enemies; do Good to them that Hate you; and Pray for them that Persecute and Calumniate you" - Matthew 5:44. Some seek to Injure you, but you must Love them. Some have done Evil to you, but you must return Good for Evil. Such is the Vengeance-of the Saints. This is the Heavenly Revenge which Saint Paulinus exhorts us to Inflict-on our Enemies. "To repay Good for Evil, is Heavenly Revenge". Saint Chrysostom teaches, that there is nothing which Assimilates us so much to God, as the Granting-of Pardon to Enemies. "Nothing makes Men so like to God, as to spare Enemies". Such has been the Practice-of the Saints. Saint Catherine of Genoa continued for a long time to Relieve a Woman who had endeavored-to Destroy the Saint's Reputation. On an Assassin, who had made an Attempt-on his Life, Saint Ambrose settled a Sum for his support. Venustanus, Governor of Tuscany, ordered the Hands-of Saint Sabinus to be cut-off, because the Holy Bishop confessed the True Faith. The Tyrant, feeling a Violent Pain in his Eyes, entreated the Saint to assist him. The Saint Prayed for him, and Raising his Arm, from-which the Blood still continued-to flow, Blessed him, and obtained-for him the Cure of his Eyes, and of his Soul; for the Tyrant became a Convert to the Faith. Father Segneri relates, that the Son of a certain Lady in Bologna, was Murdered by an Assassin, who by Accident, took Refuge in her house. What did she do? She First concealed him from the Ministers of Justice, and Afterwards said to him: Since I have Lost my Son, you shall henceforth be my Son and my Heir. Take, for the present, this Sum of Money, and provide-for your Safety elsewhere; for here you are not Secure. It is thus, the Saints resent Injuries. With what face, says Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, can he that does not Pardon the Affronts which he receives-from his Enemies, say to God: Lord, Pardon me the many Insults which I have Offered-to Thee? "Qua fronte dices Domino: remitte mihi multa peccata mea, si tu pauca conservo tuo non remiseris?". But he that Forgives his Enemies, is sure of the Pardon of the Lord, Who says: "Forgive, and you shall be Forgiven" - Luke 6:37. And when you cannot Serve them in any other way, recommend to God those who Persecute and Calumniate you. "Pray for them that Persecute and Calumniate you". This is the Admonition of Jesus Christ, Who is able to Reward those who Treat their Enemies in this manner.

 

- End of Liguori Sermon -

 

Prayerful Reflections to Stimulate
God's Love in Our Hearts

God is a Treasury of all Grace, of all Good, of all Perfection.

God is Infinite, God is Eternal, God is Immense, God is Unchangeable. God is Powerful, God is Wise, God is Provident, God is Just.

God is Merciful, God is Holy, God is Beautiful, God is Brightness itself, God is Rich, God is All Things. He is, therefore, Worthy of all our Love.

God is Infinite; He gives to All, and needs nothing from anyone. All that we have comes to us from God, but God is Sufficient in Himself.

God is Eternal; He has always been Eternal and always will be. We can count the Years and the Days of our Existence, but God knows no Beginning and will never have an End.

God is Immense, and is Essentially Present in every place. We, when we are in One Place, cannot be in Another. But God is in All Places, in Heaven, on Earth, in the Sea, Outside us, and Within us. "Where can I go from Your Spirit? From Your Presence where can I flee? If I go up to the Heavens, You are there; if I sink to the Nether World, You are present there" (Psalm 139:7-8).

God is Unchangeable, and all that He has Ordained by His Holy Will from Eternity, He Wills now and will do so Forever. "Surely I, the Lord, do not Change" (Matthew 3:6).

God is Powerful; and in comparison with God, all the Power of Creatures is but Weakness.

God is Wise; and in comparison with God, all Human Wisdom is Ignorance.

God is Provident; and in comparison with God, all Human Foresight is Ridiculous.

God is Just; and in comparison with God, all Human Justice is Defective.

God is Merciful; and in comparison with God, all Human Clemency is Imperfect.

God is Holy; in comparison with God, all Human Sanctity, though it be Heroic, falls short in an Infinite Degree: "None is Good, but God alone". (Luke 18:19).

God is Beauty itself; and in comparison with God, all Human Beauty is Deformity.

God is Brightness itself; and in comparison with God, all other Brightness, even that of the Sun, is Darkness.

God is Rich; and in comparison with God, all Human Wealth is Poverty. God is All Things; and in comparison with God, the Highest, most Sublime, most Admirable of Created Things, are Nothing. He is, therefore, Worthy of so much Love, that all the Angels and all the Saints of Heaven, do nothing but Love God; and will, throughout all Eternity, be occupied only in Loving Him.