It is to do as Jesus Christ has said : "All things, therefore, whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them." (Matt, vii., 12.) God has given us two precepts of charity, one to love him above all things, and the other, to love our neighbor as ourselves. Is not the first sufficient? It seems reasonable that, if we love God, we should also love those upon whom he has bestowed his gifts. Hence St. John says : "This commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, loveth also his brother." (1 John, iv., 21.)
But all men do not see how the love of God necessarily includes the love of our neighbor. Even in the natural sciences, a man may have correct principles, and yet be unable to draw correct conclusions. Hence God has given us a special and distinct command to love our neighbor : "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." God has made the love which we have for ourselves, the rule and measure of the love which we are to bear to our neighbor. To love, then, our neighbor properly, we must first love ourselves properly. Inordinate self-love is always bad. Every sin springs from inordinate self-love, that is, from a wilful, disorderly and obstinate attachment to one's self or to some other creature. This inordinate self-love built the ill-fated city of Babylon; its walls arose in contempt and hatred of God. We must love ourselves in God, and for God's sake.
This love of ourselves is either natural or supernatural. It is natural when its object is the goods of nature. In this sense St. Paul says : "No man ever hated his own flesh." (Eph., v., 29.) Such love, when properly directed, is not condemned by God; for God is the author of nature as well as of grace. Love of ourselves is supernatural when its object is the goods of grace and glory. As we are composed of body and soul, it is our duty to take care of both. The same commandment which obliges us to show charity to our neighbor in his temporal wants, obliges us also, as St. Augustine and St. Thomas teach, to show charity towards our own body.
Now, as Christians we love our body, because it comes from God, and is capable of contributing to his glory. "Present your members as instruments of justice unto God," says St. Paul. We also love and respect our body because it was consecrated in baptism and became a temple of the Holy Ghost. "Know you not" says St. Paul, "that you are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you ? But if any man violate the temple of God, him shall God destroy, for the temple of God is holy, which you ar." (1 Cor., iii., 16.) Again, we love our body because it is destined to rise bright and glorious on the last day, and to live reunited with the soul, and rejoice with it in heaven for all eternity. "The hour cometh, wherein all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God. And they that have done good things shall come forth unto the resurrection of life; but they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment." (John, v., 28, 29.)
Finally, we love and respect our body, because it assists us in performing our duties towards God, towards our neighbor, and towards ourselves. We are, therefore, obliged to take proper care of our bodily health. In taking care of the health of the body, we may be guilty of two excesses: one in taking too much, and the other in taking too little care of the body. There are some who take as much care of the body as if the preservation of their health or rather the gratification of the senses were the sole or at least the principal object of our life on earth. Such love for the body is sinful and leads to the destruction of both soul and body. There are others, who take too little care of their health. They are indiscreet in the practice of corporal penances ; indiscreet in fasting, in night-watching, in excessive labor. These in discreet penitents commit four thefts, says St. Bernard: they rob the body of its strength and the mind of its vigor, and, thus, by degrees render both unfit for the practice of virtue.
Moreover, they rob their neighbor of the good example they owe him, and finally they rob God of his honor. Such indiscreet mortifications are, therefore, displeasing to God. Discretion must guide us in all our actions, affections, in all our conduct; it must assign to each virtue, its proper time, and its proper place ; without discretion virtue becomes really a vice. The care of our bodily health, then, should be moderate, and such care, says St. Alphonsus, is a virtue. "It is in the order of divine Providence," says St. Francis de Sales, "that we should treat our bodies according to their natural weakness, treating them as we treat poor people, with patience and charity, and this exercise is not one of the least meritorious, because it mortifies our pride. If, in the exercise of our duties, we contract a sickness, or shorten our life, we must bless the Lord for it, and suffer with a joyful heart. Love and respect for Divine Providence and charity towards ourselves oblige us to abstain from such practices of penance as would undermine our health for, as it would betray effeminacy on our part to have too much care for our health, so, on the other hand, it would be cruel pride to neglect such care altogether. As the soul cannot carry the body when fed too well, so, on the other hand, the body when fed too little cannot carry the soul. Let the body be treated like a child; let it be chastised, but not killed. It is related in the life of this saint that he used to abstain from such mortifications as were likely to endanger his health. Now, if it is our duty to take care of our body, it is far more our duty to take care of our soul. It is especially by caring for our soul that we show true love towards ourselves.
But what does it mean to take care of our soul ?
It is to use every means in our power to save and sanctify our soul. The usual means are prayer, meditation, the frequent reception of the sacraments of Penance and the Blessed Eucharist, the mortification of the senses, exterior and interior recollection, the control of our passions, the performance of good works, especially of such as are prescribed by the commandments of God and his holy Church.
In laboring for our sanctification, our chief object should be to glorify God in this world and in the next. "For," says St. Thomas, " the ultimate and chief end for which God created heaven is that we may glorify God in heaven. The glory which we are to receive should be only the secondary object which we have in view in laboring for our salvation and sanctification. It is but the means to reach the principle end. No one can glorify God in heaven but he whom God glorifies. It is, therefore, self deception, and self-interest to labor for our salvation only for the sake of the glory which we are to receive." The object of our Saviour's life on earth was to glorify his heavenly Father, in order that the Father in turn, might glorify his Son. "Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee. I have glorified thee on earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now glorify thou me, Father, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee." (John, xvii., 1, 4, 5.) If we in imitation of our dear Saviour, pass our life in glorifying God, that God may also glorify us, we have indeed true supernatural love of ourselves the love of hope which prompts us to love God as our supreme good and reward, and the love of charity which makes us love God and ourselves in him and for him, and causes us to refer all things to his glory. As the true love of ourselves consists in loving ourselves in God and for God, so the true love of our neighbor consists in loving him in God and for God. When we recommend a dear friend to any one we usually say: "The kindness you show him I will consider as a favor conferred on myself." In like manner, when our Saviour declared that "the second commandment is like to the first," he wished to give us to understand that the love which we bear him should induce us to love our neighbor also. "If thou lovest me" said Jesus to St. Peter, "feed my sheep" (John, xxi., 17) ; that is to say : If you really love me, you will show your love by taking good care of my sheep ? Our Saviour has substituted our neighbor for himself. He wishes us to bestow on our neighbor the charity and gratitude which we owe to God himself. He has transferred to our neighbor all the claims that he has on us and he desires us to pay to our neighbor all that we owe to himself. "As long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me." (Matt,, xxv., 40.)
Our dear Lord calls this precept of charity especially his own commandment. "This is my commandment, that you love one another." He calls it his commandment, to teach us that this precept of charity is the foundation of all his heavenly doctrines, the sole object of his coming into this world, the sole aim of all his labors and sufferings. "I have come," he says, " to cast fire upon the earth (the fire of charity), and what will I but that it be enkindled." (Luke, xii., 49.)
Not satisfied with calling the precept of charity his own commandment, our dear Saviour calls it also a new commandment. "I give you," he says, "a new commandment." (John, xiii., 34.) But how is it new ? Is not the precept of charity as old as the world ? True ; the precept of charity, in general, and in a certain sense, is as ancient as the world. The law of charity is a law of nature. It is a law engraven on the heart of every man, that he must act towards others as he would wish that they should act towards him. But this law of nature was more or less obscured by the passions of men. Hence Christian charity, or that kind of charity which Jesus Christ commands, is a new commandment. It is new as to the spirit and perfection with which it is to be observed. We are to love one another as Jesus Christ has loved us. "I give you a new commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you." (John, xiii., 34.) I have given you my entire self, all that I am and all that I have. I am now going to sacrifice my life on the cross for you and all men. I wish you to follow my example and to love one another with true, with divine, that is with a universal, love. My love is not limited by sympathies and aversions, by natural inclinations and antipathies, by ingratitude and hatred. My heart embraces all mankind. As I am infinite goodness itself, it is my pleasure to do good to every man who is my image, my subject, my work, and my child. There is no one whom this love of mine does not overshadow ; there is no one to whom I have not given all that is necessary for his temporal welfare; no one whom I have not enlightened by my inspirations, assisted by my grace. I have given to every one an angel to watch over him. I desire the salvation of all. I have given to each one the means of salvation. I have given to each one the sacraments of my Church. I have created each one for heaven. I gave you an example of this charity in the parable of the good Samaritan. The Samaritan did not ask the wounded man what country he was from whether he was a Greek or a barbarian. He did not wait for others to perform the duties of charity towards the poor stranger. He did not say : "It is the duty of priests and Levites to take care of this man; I can do nothing for him. "He did not offer his ignorance of medicine as an excuse for abandoning the wounded man. He did not excuse himself on account of the danger he would incur of falling into the hands of the robbers if he delayed. He did not spare his wine and oil. He placed the sick man on his horse, and walked himself. He took the wounded man to an inn and defrayed all his expenses there. It is thus you must love all men, without exception. You must exclude no one from your love. You must do good to the most wretched and forsaken. "If you love one another," says Jesus, "all men will know that you are my disciples, and that I was sent by my heavenly Father." (John, xiii., 35.) "And not for them (the apostles) alone do I pray, but for them also who, through their word, shall believe in me, that they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me and I in thee, that they also may be one in us, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me."; (John, xvii., 20, 21.)
When St. Pachomius was yet a heathen soldier and noticed the cheerfulness with which the inhabitants of a certain place assisted the soldiers in their distress, he asked who those persons were who so cheerfully assisted others. He was answered that they were Christians whose religion obliged them to assist every one to the best of their power. This answer made a deep impression upon Pachomius. He felt convinced that a religion which inspired so universal and so disinterested a charity, must be divine, and he immediately became a Christian.
If we wish, then, to comply with the precept of charitv, we must behold our neighbor in the heart of Jesus Christ. There we will find our neighbor, and Jesus loves him so much that he died for him. He, therefore, who fixes his eyes upon the heart of Jesus, cannot help loving his neighbor truly. He, on the contrary, who looks at his neighbor out of the heart of Jesus, runs the risk of loving him with neither pure nor constant love. If we love our neighbor in God, our love becomes only the more intense and more perfect. This motive ennobles our affections and transforms them from natural into supernatural, from human into divine, from temporal into eternal. Mere natural friendship does not last long, because its foundation is unsteady. At the first misunderstanding the mere natural cools and dies. But this does not happen in friendship which is founded in God, because its foundation is firm and solid. The bond of divine charity alone can keep our hearts united.
You will find men, void of divine charity, slaves of their passions, who affect, when it suits their purpose, great religious zeal and purity. They talk of "Philanthropy," and "Humanity," show great compassion for a lame horse, and give the cold shoulder to the houseless orphan. The hearts of such men are cold and insincere. They are often addicted to shameful secret crimes. By their bad example and their impious principles, they cause the ruin of thousands of souls.
See what secret societies do to entice unwary Catholics into the lodges. They promise them assistance in all their temporal necessities; they promise them work; promotion to government offices, lucrative employment, and so on but it is false, poisonous charity ; it is but a bait thrown out to ensnare them to rob them of their faith, of God, of heaven, and draw them into everlasting perdition : it is but a hellish malice under the cloak of charity. These secret societies are a device of satan who wishes to bring men to kneel down and worship him. "All these kingdoms and their glory will I give thee," said the devil to our Saviour, "if falling down thou wilt adore me." (Matt., iv., 8, 9.)
Now, though we are obliged to love all men as our selves, yet we are not bound to love our neighbor more than ourselves ; we are not obliged to prefer his welfare to our own. The only exception to this is when our neighbor is in extreme want and the good he possesses is of a higher order than ours. Now, the order of our spiritual and temporal goods is:
1. the spiritual life of the soul the life of grace;
2, the temporal life of the body;
3, our good name ;
4, our wealth and temporal possessions.
If our neighbor, then, is in extreme want, we are obliged to prefer our neighbor's spiritual salvation to our temporal life: his temporal life to our reputation, and his reputation to our wealth and temporal possessions.But we must bear in mind that we are thus bound only when our neighbor is in extreme want. If he is not in such necessity, we are not bound to prefer his welfare to our own, even though his good should be of a higher order than ours. Should my neighbor, for instance, unjustly attempt to take my life, it is no sin for me to kill him, if I have no other way of saving my life; for, in such a case, I am allowed to prefer my temporal life to the spiritual life of my neighbor, for he is not obliged to kill me.
To be continued . . . . . . .