The greatest commandment is, to love God above all things, with our whole heart, and our neighbor as ourselves.
We read in the Gospel that the Jews often put questions to our dear Saviour. Some questioned him through malice, to tempt and to ensnare him in his speech; others questioned him through curiosity ; and others through a sincere desire to know what they must believe and do, in order to be saved. Jesus answered all of them with admirable sweetness and charity. Thus one day, the Pharisees came to him, and one of them, a doctor of the law tempted him, saying :
"Master, which is the great commandment in the law !" Jesus said to him :
"Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the greatest and the first commandment. And the second is like to this : Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." (Matt, xxii., 35.)
Our Lord gave this answer, because he knew that there were many who observed the commandments only externally, without loving God above all things. Even the great Apostle St. Paul acknowledges that though before his conversion he observed the law externally, without blame (Phil, iii., 6.), yet he did not observe it internally, by loving God above all things.
"We ourselves," he says, "were some time unwise, incredulous erring slaves to divers desires and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hating one another." (Tit. iii., 3.) In deed a person may not curse or break the Sabbath, or disobey lawful authority, or commit adultery or steal, thus keeping the second, third, fourth, sixth and seventh commandments, and yet, for all that, he may not observe the precept of loving God above all things.
"All these things,:" said the young man in the Gospel, "I have observed from my youth." But when he was told to leave his wealth and follow Jesus, he refused, and, therefore, our Lord silently reproved him by saying :
"How hardly shall they who have riches enter into the kingdom of God." (Mark x./23.)
One, therefore, may keep the commandments externally without keeping them internally. Now the mere external observance of the commandments is not sufficient to merit heaven. Hence, when our Saviour was asked:
"Which is the greatest commandment in the law?" he answered :
"The greatest and first commandment is : Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul ; with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength ; and thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself."
From these words of our Lord it is clear that the keeping of the commandments must be accompanied by divine charity in order to merit heaven. A good father is not satisfied with his children if they merely do what he commands them ; he also wishes that they should obey him out of love. In like manner, our heavenly Father is not satisfied with us if we merely observe his commandments externally. He also wishes that we should keep them out of real love for ,him.
"Salvation," says St. Thomas "is shown to faith, and prepared for hope ; but it is given only to charity."
But what is charity?
"Charity" says St. Thomas, "is that special kind of friendship which is based on the interchange of goods and affections." Jesus Christ said to his disciples that, as he had made them his friends, he had communicated to them all his secrets. (John, xv., 15.)
True love naturally tends to union with the object beloved. It is like a golden chain which binds together the hearts of those that love. Hence, he who loves, always desires the presence of the object of his love. Divine charity, also, establishes, between God and man, a communication of goods and a union of sentiments. A loving father yearns intensely to communicate himself and all his goods to his children. Now, since God is our Father, he has an unbounded yearning to communicate himself to us. This infinite desire of communicating himself is essential to God's nature, for God is infinite love, and love is always communicative. We see clearly the effects of this love of God, in the mystery of the Incarnation. We see these effects in the preaching of Christ, in his miracles, in his passion and death. We see them in the mission of the Holy Ghost. We see these effects in the holy sacraments, especially in that of the Holy Eucharist, in which God may be said to have exhausted his omnipotence, his wisdom and his love for man. Finally, we see them in God's most wonderful care for his Church as well as for each individual soul.
In the act of justification by which God frees the soul from sin and sanctifies her, he communicates himself to the soul, not only by grace, charity and other virtues, but he also communicates himself substantially in giving the Holy Ghost. There is in God the Father, as I have said, an infinite desire of communicating himself and all his goods. In this love he generates from all eternity, his only-begotten Son. This is, undoubtedly, the greatest act of his infinite Charity. But this heavenly Father still continues to beget, in time, children who are by grace what the Son of God is by nature, so that our sonship bears the greatest resemblance to the divine sonship. Hence, St. Paul writes :
"Whom He foreknew He also predestined to be made conformable to the Image of His Son, that He might be the first-born amongst many brethren." (Rom. viii., 29.) Behold, the great things which Divine love effects ! We are the sons of God, as the Holy Scripture says :
"Ye are the sons of the living God." (Osee i., 107.) In this divine adoption there are infused into the soul not only the grace, the charity and other gifts of the Holy Ghost, but the Holy Ghost Himself, who is the first, the uncreated Gift that God bestows on us. In justifying and sanctifying us, God might infuse into our souls His grace and charity to such a degree only as would render us simply just and holy, without adopting us as His children. This grace of simple justification would, no doubt, be, in itself, a very great gift, it being a participation in the Divine Nature in a very high degree ; so that in all truth, we could exclaim with the Blessed Virgin: "Fecit mild magna, qui potens est, He that is mighty has done great tilings to me." (Luke i., 49.)
But to give us only such a degree of grace and participation in his Divine Nature, is not enough for the love of God. The grace of adoption is bestowed upon us in so high a degree as to make us really children of God. But even this measure of the grace of adoption might be bestowed upon us by God in such a manner only as to give, thereby, no more than His charity, grace and created gifts. This latter grace of adoption would, certainly, surpass the former of simple justification, so that,in all truth, we might again exclaim with the Mother of God: "Fecit potentiam in brachio suo He hath showed might in His arm." (Luke i., 51.)
But neither is this gift, great though it be, great enough for the charity which God bears us. God, in His immense charity for us, wishes to bestow greater things upon us, in order to raise us still higher in grace and in the participation in his Divine Nature. Hence He goes so far as to give Himself to us, in order to sanctify and adopt us in person.
The Holy Ghost unites Himself to His gifts, His grace, and His charity, so that, while infusing these gifts into our souls, He infuses with them Himself in person. On this account St. Paul writes : "The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost, Who is given to us." (Rom. v., 5.) On this very account, the same Apostle calls the Holy Ghost, the Spirit of adoption. "For you have not received," says he, "the spirit of bondage again in fear; but you have received the Spirit of adoption of children, whereby we cry : Abba, Father ; for the Spirit Himself giveth testimony to our spirit, that we are the children of God; and if children, heirs also : heirs indeed of God, and joint -heirs of Christ. 7 (Rom. viii., 15.) And : "Whoever are led by the Spirit of God, they are the children of God." (Galat. iv., 6.)
This Divine charity and grace is, no doubt, the height of God s charity for us, and is at the same time, the height of our dignity and exaltation, because, on receiving these Divine gifts, we receive, at the same time, the Person of the Holy Ghost, who unites Himself to these gifts, as I have said, and by them lives in us, adopts us, deities us, and urges us on to the performance of every good work. Truly, the love of God effects great things ! But even this is not all we receive still greater favors. In coming personally into the soul, the Holy Ghost is accompanied by the other Divine Persons also, the Father and the Son, from whom He cannot be separated. Therefore, in the act of justification, the three Divine Persons come personally and really into the soul, as into their Temple, living and dwelling therein as long as the soul perseveres in the grace of God. For this reason, St. John writes : "He that abideth in charity, abideth in God and God in him" (I John iv., 16.) St. Paul writes the same thing: "He who is joined to God is one spirit."(I Cor. vi., 17.)
Jesus Christ obtained for us this grace, when he prayed on the eve of his passion : "Holy Father, keep them in Thy name, that they all may be one, as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us." (John, xii., 11,29.) Jesus Christ asks of His Father that all His followers may participate in the one and same Holy Ghost, so that, in Him and through Him, they may be united to the other Divine persons. St. Bonaventure says that the just not only receive the gifts, but also the person of the Holy Ghost. (1 Sent, d. 14, a. 2, 9, 1.) The same is taught by the renowned Master of Sentences (Lib. I dist. 14 & 15.) who quotes St. Augustine and others in support of this doctrine. St. Thomas Aquinas asserts the same thing. (I p. 9. 43, a. 3, and 6 & 9. 38 art. 8.)
"Grace," says Suarez, " establishes a most perfect friendship between God and man. Now such a friendship requires the presence of the friend, that is the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost, therefore, abides in the soul of his friend, in order to unite himself most intimately with him ; he resides in the soul of his friend as in his Temple in order to be honored, worshipped, and loved."
From what has been said it is easy to see why charity is called the queen of all virtues. "God is charity," says St. John (1. iv., 8.), "He who abides in charity, abides in God, and God in him. "The Holy Ghost, the Spirit of charity, who lives in the just, urges them on to the practice of virtue and the performance of good works. Hence, as St. Paul says, "Charity is patient, is kind-, charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely, is not puffed up ; is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh not evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth, beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." (1. Cor. xiii., 4-7.) ; that is, Charity, or the Spirit of God, makes the just believe all things revealed by God and taught by his Church, hope for all things, and do all things commanded by the Lord ; it makes them God
fearing, it makes them generous ; they are full of confidence in God, and have courage to undertake every thing for his glory.
Charity makes the just strong ; it makes them triumph over their passions, over the most violent temptations and the greatest trials; it makes them obedient ; they promptly follow the voice of God ; it makes them pure : they love God only and love him because he deserves to be loved on account of his most amiable, infinite perfections. Charity makes the just ardent they wish to inflame all hearts and to see them consumed with divine love.
Charity ravishes the souls of the just, so that they seem to be no longer occupied with earthly things, but with loving God alone. Charity makes the just sigh unceasingly ; it fills their souls with an evident desire to quit the earth in order to be united to God in heaven, and there to love him with all their strength. Since Charity is unitive, it unites the will of the just to that of their Creator;
it makes them love all that God loves and hate all that he* hates. Charity thus is the queen of all virtues : it produces them, and brings them to perfection ; it embraces them all, directs them all to
God, gives chem all their supernatural dignity and value, and makes them truly deserving of an eternal reward.
Hence it is that the commandment to love God with our whole heart, and our whole soul, and with our whole mind and with our whole strength, is the greatest and first commandment. It is the greatest and first in obligation, because it must be preferred to all other commandments ; it is the greatest and the first in authority because it refers immediately to God, and is intimately associated with him: it is the greatest and first in dignity, because it is the foundation of all the others and leads to the height of perfection ; it is the greatest and the first in merit, be cause without charity no good work can merit heaven ; it is the greatest and the first in sweetness, because charity renders the yoke of Jesus infinitely sweet and agreeable, filling the soul with joy, and with the peace and unction of the Holy Ghost ; and finally, this commandment is the greatest and the first in efficacy, because it includes and fulfils all the other commandments, for he who truly loves God can do nothing to displease him.
As charity is the parent and queen of all virtues, it is evident that where this gift of the Holy Ghost is wanting there cannot be any virtue sufficient to merit eternal life. "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels and have not charity," says St. Paul, "I am become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy, and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity,! am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." Indeed all mere natural gifts, however precious and sublime, cannot put us in communication with God, for an effect can never surpass its cause. A natural cause cannot produce a supernatural effect, that is, nothing merely natural can produce divine charity. Charity is produced by the Holy Ghost. "The charity of God is poured forth into our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given to us. ?" (Rom. v., 5.) When God bestows his grace or charity upon us, it is the same as if he gave himself to us. Now God is an infinite good. It is, therefore, self-evident, that no natural gift, or good work proceeding from mere natural virtue, can put us in possession of an infinite good.
One mortal sin is enough to destroy charity. The soul has a twofold life: the one natural, the other supernatural. The natural life of the soul cannot be lost cannot be lost even in hell. But the supernatural life of the soul, which is called the life of grace or charity, is destroyed even by one mortal sin. The Holy Ghost himself is this life. Now mortal sin is directly opposed to the Holy Ghost, for mortal sin consists in turning away from God. Sin and charity are as much opposed to each other as life and death. "The wages of sin is death." (Rom. vi., 23.) As death is the destruction of life, so is sin the destruction of charity. If charity were a merely natural virtue, one sinful act would not destroy it; for a natural habit can subsist notwithstanding a contrary act. But charity is a supernatural virtue, it is the Holy Ghost himself. Hence, as soon as we commit but one mortal sin, charity, that is the Holy Ghost, the true life of the soul, leaves us. "Man," says St. Agustine, "is in light and grace when God is present; and he is in darkness and error as soon as God is absent, not on account of the distance that separates him from us;but in consequence of the depravity and corruption of our will."
To accustom ourselves to make acts of charity, we should often meditate on our dear Lord, especially on his goodness, mercy and love. We should meditate on the mystery of the Incarnation, on our Lord in his Passion, on the Presence of Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. We cannot love a person unless we know him ; how, then, can we love God unless we often think upon what he is, what he has done, and what he still does for us? God says in Holy writ: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and and with thy whole strength; these words shall be in thy heart ; thou shalt meditate upon them, sitting in thy house, and walking on thy journey, sleeping and rising. And thou shalt bind them as a sign on thy hand, and write them in the entry and on the doors of thy house." (Deut.vi., 69.) In these words, our Lord tells us that we should often make acts of love of God, for he who does not frequently make such acts, will scarcely be able to keep the law. Acts of love are the fuel which keeps the holy ardor of divine love burning in our hearts.
Now we are particularly obliged to make acts of charity:
1. When we are in danger of death, especially if we are in mortal sin, and no priest is at hand to absolve us. In this case we are bound to make an act of perfect contrition, which necessarily includes an act of charity.
2. When we are sorely tempted.
3. It is probable that a child is bound to make an act of charity as soon as it comes to the age of reason and is able to appreciate the goodness of God.
4. We are also bound to make an act of charity at the hour of death.
5. St. Alphonsus says that those who neglect to make an act of charity for a whole month are guilty of a grievous sin.
In fine, if we wish to preserve, in our hearts, the precious virtue of divine charity without which we are nothing in the sight of God, we must never let a day pass without making frequent acts of love for God.
It is not necessary to use a particular form of words. Whenever we say the Lord's Prayer, and sincerely desire that God s holy name should be hallowed, that his kingdom should come into our hearts, we make thereby an act of perfect charity. Acts of love may be made with out using any words at all. It is an act of charity to give alms, to hear mass, to receive holy communion, to confess our sins, and in fact, to perform any good work with the intention of pleasing God.
To be continued . . . . . . . . . . . . . .