"An Illustrated Explanation of the Commandments," by Rev. H. Rolfus, D.D., Imprimatur 1897.
"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." The meaning of this commandment is this: We must love God by a deliberate act of the will (heart), we must reflect how we can put this love into action (soul), we must really love God with an ardent inward charity (mind), and what our will and our intellect have thus apprehended we must practise to the best of our ability (strength). And as the Israelites were always to have the law of God before their eyes, so it must ever be present to our soul, that its observance is the end for which we were created. It is impossible, however, for us to do this of our own selves, but only by means of a supernatural faculty which we receive in holy Baptism. Therefore we call charity, as well as faith, an infused virtue, and, because it has God for its object, a theological virtue. "The charity of God is poured forth in our hearts by the Holy Ghost who is given us" (Rom. v. 5).
1. God must be the object of our love, we must love God above everything else in the world. For the love of God we must, if necessary, sacrifice all the goods of this earth; we must leave father and mother, nay, even give our own life, if charity requires it. All we are allowed to love in this world, we may only love for the sake of God, and in so far as He permits it. We must rather lose everything than commit a sin, for sin separates us from God. " He that loveth father or mother more than Me, is not worthy of Me ; and he that lovethson or daughter more than Me, is not worthy of Me" (St. Matt. x. 37).
2. It it not at all opposed to the love of God that man love himself. He is a creature of God, a child of God, an heir of the kingdom of heaven, destined for eternal bliss. This high dignity confers on the Christian not only the right to love himself, but makes self-love a duty for him. Here, again, however, man may only love himself so far as this love coincides with the will of God, as no sin is committed, and as the honor of God is not offended. When charity is violated, all temporal gain, even the greatest, is a loss; but every loss we suffer for the love of God is a gain for us. " He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal" (St. John xii. 25).
3. Although we must love God because He commands it, love from this motive would be a most imperfect love. We must rather love God because He is the Sovereign Good, because He is most worthy of our love, and because He contains in Himself all perfection. He is the most excellent, the most beautiful, the most perfect, and therefore the most amiable. He alone is the Sovereign and Eternal Good. Therefore Nehemias prays in these words: "O Lord God, Creator of all things, dreadful and strong, just and merciful, who alone art the good King, who alone art gracious, who alone art just, and almighty, and eternal" (2 Mach. i. 24, 25). But we also may and ought to love God for the sake of the many benefits which He has conferred on us and is still conferring every moment. Even before we began to live the Lord looked on us with an eye of mercy and called us to be His children. He says to us through the prophet : " I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore have I drawn thee, taking pity on thee" (Jer. xxxi. 3).
From the very first moment of our life to our last breath the Lord loads us with undeserved benefits. And these benefits are at the same time the means of our salvation, for they sustain the life of the soul as well as that of the body, in order that we may fulfil both our earthly and our heavenly destiny. This love is called the love of gratitude. "Let us therefore love God, because God first hath loved us" (1 St. John iv. 19).
4. We must moreover love God, because He has prepared eternal beatitude for us. This beatitude consists in the possession and enjoyment of God Himself. Therefore those who love God feel a longing for God, which is thus described by the apostle : " I have a desire to be dissolved and to be with Christ" (Phil. i. 23).
5. Charity does not only manifest itself in loving affections and emotions, but in an upright mind, instrong resolves, and above all in the observance of the commandments. It stands to reason that he who acts contrary to the will of God has no love for Him. Therefore Our Saviour says expressly: "He that hath My commandments and keepeth them, he it is that loveth Me" (St. John xiv. 21).
1. Although charity does not consist in tender emotions, we must not omit to evoke loving affections in our hearts. Even when we are at work, and then more than ever, we can prove to God that for love of Him we are ready to do and suffer all, and to bear all hardships. Let us offer Him our thoughts, affections, desires, actions, toils, and privations, and let us unite them all with the great sacrifice of love which Our Saviour offered for us.
2. But let us also speak very often of the love of God, not only in order to animate ourselves, but also to enkindle divine love in the hearts of our fellow-men, for this is the will of God expressed in the following words: "I am come to cast fire on the earth, and what will I but that it be kindled?" (St. Luke xii. 49.)
Abraham would have made the greatest sacrifice for the love of God: he would have killed his own son (Gen. xxii.). The three Israelites, Annias, Azarias, and Misael, allowed themselves to be thrown into the fiery furnace rather than adore the statue erected by Nabuchodonosor (Dan. iii. 20). Eleazar let himself be beaten to death with scourges, but he did not touch the swine's flesh which was put before him (2 Mach. vi.). The Machabean brothers and their mother showed equal fortitude (2 Mach. vii.). St. Stephen, the protomartyr, and all the other martyrs of Christ give us the same glorious example. All for the Love of God.
The heart of St. John of the Cross burned with such an ardent love of God that the hardest trials and privations seemed easy to him, because he bore all adversities with his eyes fixed on Him who first loved us. He went so far as never to accept an invitation to dine when he had preached in a strange place, for he said : " I do not want to accept pay from men for what I have done for the love of God." Once he was innocently imprisoned and even bodily ill-treated. But, when he was set free, he only complained that he had so little to suffer. To those who wondered at his lamentations, he answered: "Do not be astonished that I love suffering so much, for when I was in prison God gave me a great knowledge of the value of suffering borne for the love of Him." On his deathbed he kept on sighing for release. When askedby a brother whether he wished to be released on account of his pains, he answered with a smile: "No, dear brother, but because of my hearty desire to see God the hours seem so long to me." The Church therefore calls St. John of the Cross, in the
Collect of his feast, a lover of the Cross. Sins Against the Love of God*
Every sin violates charity. The effect of mortal sin is to kill the love of God in our soul, whereas venial sin only weakens its fervor. But there are sins which in themselves are opposed to the love of God. To these belongs above all:
1. Hatred of God. This is the devil's own sin. For he did not simply transgress a commandment, but he rebelled against God and would have deprived Him of His sovereignty, and put himself in His place, had he been able to do so. Then there is:
2. Impiety or contempt of God, when we turn away from God. An impious man of this kind is found in Pharao, who, on being asked by Moses in the name of God to let the Israelites depart, hardened his heart, and, in spite of all the divine judgments which he saw before his eyes, would not turn to God.
3. Forgetfulness of God, or indifference for God's honor. Of this sin those are chiefly guilty who know that their inferiors commit sin and do not interfere, or allow God to be blasphemed in their presence and do not raise their voice against it.
4. Murmuring against God's providence. In this way Jonas sinned, who tried to evade the command of God by taking ship for Tharsis, instead of going to Ninive. And when God spared the inhabitants of Ninive, because they did penance, put on sackcloth, and proclaimed a fast, he murmured against God and wished to die (Jonas i. 3; iv. 2-4).
The opposite virtue of these sins is zeal for God's honor, which boldly opposes all evil.
5. Lastly, we have to name idolatry in its extended sense, i.e., such an inordinate affection for creatures that we would rather transgress God's commandments and commit sin, or allow others to commit sin, than overcome the love of creatures or keep it in its proper bounds. Thus parents love their children more than God when they allow them to do as they like, and bring them up to vanity and pride, whereas God commands that they should be trained in modesty, obedience, and humility. So also many a one loves a person, and, in order to obtain her in marriage, he sacrifices his faith and the faith of his children if this is made a condition. Animals are often loved inordinately, and so much is spent on them that the poor would be glad to have only part of it. If anybody loves money and possessions so much that he strives to acquire them by unlawful means, or does not restore them when he has acquired them dishonestly, or if he becomes hard towards his fellow-men for the sake of worldly gain, he adores Mammon. The god of the glutton is his belly. This kind of idolatry is, moreover, committed by all those who trust more in man than in God. All the impious are guilty of it. Every inordinate affection leads to this creature worship, if we do not resist it from the very beginning. Zeal for the Honor of God.
In the time of Antiochus, king of Syria, there lived in the Jewish town of Modin a priest of the name of Mathathias. He was much honored in all Judea for his piety and zeal for the law of God. He had five sons, who, like their father, walked in the ways of the law ; Judas, who afterwards received the name of Machabeus the Hammer, was the greatest among them. To this man King Antiochus sent messengers to ask him and the inhabitants of Modin to sacrifice to heathen idols and eat swine's flesh, and to threaten him with death if he refused. If, on the contrary, Mathathias would offer sacrifice, he and his sons were to be counted among the friends of the king, and loaded with gold and silver and many presents. But Mathathias answered and said in a loud voice : " Although all nations obey King Antiochus, so as to depart every man from the service of the law of his fathers, and consent to his commandments, I and my sons, and my brethren, will obey the law of our fathers." And, when a Jew stepped forth in the sight of all to offer sacrifice on the altar which the messenger of Antiochus had erected, his wrath was kindled, and he slew him on the altar, and pulled down the altar. And he left the city with his sons and fled into the mountains, and many that sought after judgment and justice went up with him, and they went round about and threw down the altars, and they recovered the law out of the hands of the nations and yielded not the horn to the sinner (1. Mach. ii.).
Charity Towards Our Neighbor
The object of our love is God in the first place, but our neighbor in the second, and the commandment of charity towards our neighbor is expressly declared by Our Lord to be equivalent to the commandment of charity towards God. "And thesecond is like to it: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (St. Mark xii. 31).
1. The word neighbor does not only designate those who are nearly related to us by the ties of blood, or who live with us in the same house, not only our friends, our countrymen, our namesakes,but every one who has a claim on our help, whether he be of our faith or not, whether he be our friend or our enemy. Our Saviour clearly teaches this in the parable of the Good Samaritan (St. Luke x.). It is where the need is greatest that we must help first, and this is especially the case where the soul is in danger. But when the necessity is equally great, we may give the preference to our relatives, friends, and those of our own faith. We may also render greater assistance to those who are more worthy of charity, and we may refuse our help altogether to those who constantly abuse it. " Whilst we have time, let us work good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of the faith" (Gal. vi. 10).
2. We must love our neighbor for the sake of God. In man we love and honor God Himself, for man is created after the image of God. Moreover, we are members of the same family, for we are children of God, we have God for our common Father, we have all the same vocation to attainheaven, whether we be rich or poor. The Prophet Malachias reproves the Jews for their want of charity when he says: "Have we not all one Father? Hath not one God created us ? Why then doth every one of us despise his brother?" (Mai. ii. 10).
Besides, love of our neighbor is the test by which we know whether love of God be genuine, for the Apostle says: " 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" (1 St. John iv. 20, 21).
3. When the commandment says: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself," this does not imply that I am bound to love him in the same degree as myself, but that I must love him in the same manner as myself. St. Thomas Aquinas teaches expressly that the words " as myself" do not refer to the degree, but to the manner in which we must love. In the same way as we desire all good for ourselves and try to avoid all evil, we are to desire every blessing for our fellow-men, and grieve with them over their misfortunes. " Rejoice with them that rejoice, weep with them that weep" (Rom. xii. 15).
How we are to love our neighbor is summed up very simply in the following two precepts of the natural law : " Do not do to others what you do not wish them to do to you;" "Do to others as you wish to be done by." These precepts of the natural law are confirmed by Holy Scriptures. When the elder Tobias thought he was going to die, he exhorted his son in these words : " See thou never do to another what thou wouldst hate to have done to thee by another" (Tob. iv. 16). And Our Saviour teaches: "All things therefore whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them. For this is the law and the prophets" (St. Matt. vii. 12).
4. But charity must not be satisfied with empty words and wishes, it must show itself in works ofpractical help and assistance in corporal as well as in spiritual need. The apostle exhorts us in the name of God in these words : " Let us not love in word, nor in tongue, but in deed, and in truth (1 St. John iii. 18).
5. This precept of charity does not, however, give a right to the poor to claim our help and
assistance. They must look for charity and mercy, which they may invoke, but which they must try to merit by faith and confidence, by patience and content, by temperance and industry. The Apostle Paul could write of himself to the Christians: "When I was present with you, and wanted, I was chargeable to no man : In all things I have kept myself from being burthensome to you, and so I will keep myself" (2 Cor. xi. 9).
6. Holy Scripture recommends to our charity above all widows and orphans, for they are those who have generally lost their protector and support. The impious take advantage of their helplessness, and injure and oppress them, because they have nobody to take up their cause. " Religion clean and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the fatherless and widows in their tribulation" (St. James i. 27).
7. How charity shows itself in our daily intercourse with our fellow-men is described by St. Paul in these words : " 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 no 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).
Holy Scripture tells us the most beautiful and touching examples of charity. Abraham sat before his tent and saw three strangers come to him. He did not know them, but he adored them down to the ground, and said : " Lord, if I have found favor in Thy sight, pass not away from Thy servant; but I will fetch a little water and wash your feet, and rest ye under the tree. And I will send a morsel of bread, and strengthen ye your heart." Then Abraham hastened to the tent and said to Sara: "Make haste, temper together three measures of flour, and make cakes upon the hearth." He bade his servant to prepare a very tender calf; he himself took butter and milk, and the calf which he had boiled, and set it before his guests. (Gen. xviii. 2-8.) When Abraham's servant, Eleazar, asked Rebecca for a little water, she did not only give him to drink out of her pitcher, but she ran back to the well to draw water, and having drawn, she gave to all the camels (Gen. xxiv. 20). When the Israelites began to think that Moses had forsaken them, and made a golden calf in order to adore it, and God wanted to destroy the whole nation, Moses prayed thus to the Lord : "Either forgive them this trespass, or if Thou do not, strike me out of the book that Thou hast written" (Exod. xxxii. 31). He was ready to give up eternal bliss rather than let the people perish. Tobias daily went among all his kindred, and comforted them, and distributed to every one as he was able of his goods, so that he became poor himself (Tob. i. 19).
At the marriage of Cana, our Blessed Lady interceded for the guests when the wine failed (St, John ii. 3). The early Christians had all things in common, " neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own" (Acts iv. 32). The pious Tabitha was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did. When she was dead, and they sent for St. Peter, all the widows stood about him weeping and showing him the coats and garments which Tabitha had made (Acts ix. 36-39)- How beautiful is the sympathy of the neighbors and kinsfolk of Elizabeth, who rejoiced when they heard that the Lord had showed His great mercy towards her (St. Luke i. 58). When the widow of Naim followed the body of her son to the grave, a great multitude of the city was with her. And when Our Lord had given back the son to his afflicted mother, they glorified God and rejoiced with her (St. Luke vii. 12-16). St. Paul says of himself that he had great sadness and continual sorrow in his heart, because his kinsmen would not receive the Gospel of Christ, and he wished, like Moses, to be anathema if only his brethren might be in union with Christ (Rom. ix. 23).
Love of Our Enemies
The commandment which God has given us to love our neighbor extends to our enemies. Nobody may be excluded from our love. This seems very hard to our poor human nature. But:
1. God has expressly commanded it, and this alone is sufficient for convincing us that we can love our enemies. Our Saviour says : " Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them that calumniate you" (St. Luke vi. 27, 28).
He has, moreover, given us the example Himself: He did not only pray for His executioners, He also made excuses for them when He said : " Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do" (St. Luke xxiii. 34). St. Leo says, in contemplating this wonderful love: "Our Lord did not remember that He was dying by His enemies, He only remembered that He was dying for them."
2. Our Lord has attached the pardon of our own sins to our readiness to forgive those who have injured us. He taught us to pray: "Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive them that trespass against us." And He added expressly : "If you will forgive men their offences, your heavenly Father will forgive you also your offences. But if you will not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive you your offences" (St. Matt. vi. 14, 15).
Whoever does not forgive his enemies draws down upon himself the curse of God in saying the Our Father, for he says: Do to me, O Lord, as I do to my enemies, and, because I do not forgive them, do Thou not forgive me either. We see how such an unforgiving man is dealt with in the parable of the unmerciful servant, who did not come out of prison till he had paid the last farthing, although his master had forgiven him his whole enormous debt before.
3. This precept of loving our enemies does not enjoin that we should love our enemies in the same way as we love our friends, parents, benefactors, i.e., not as sensibly and as tenderly, but we must not wish them any harm, but rather, as far as we can, shield them from evil. We must not only wish them all good from our hearts, we must do good unto them as far as we can. On no account may the Christian take revenge for injuries he has received. If he whom we deem our enemy has done us any injury, God will punish him, for He says: "Revenge is Mine, and I will repay them in due time" (Deut. xxxii. 35).
If we treat our enemy with charity, we imitate our heavenly Father, "who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust" (St. Matt. v. 45).
4. If we have been injured by any one, we may try to obtain just and legal reparation; when we are assaulted, we may defend ourselves as far as is necessary. On the other hand, we may not refuse to salute our adversary or to return his salute, we may not revile and insult him, or refuse him such services as usage and custom require, especially when he is in distress. We must altogether show by our outward conduct that we have no hatred or rancor in our heart, but are ready to be reconciled with our enemy, even should he himself not be willing to forgive.
1. Let us strive above all to banish all bitterness from our hearts, and let us consider that it is often mere thoughtlessness, and not malice, by which we have been offended. Let us pray forour adversaries, that God may give them a right understanding. But let us remember above all that, whatever men may do to injure us, their guilt towards us is only very small in comparison with the immense debt we have incurred by offending God.
2. As long as we harbor any enmity in our heart, all our good works are of no avail. Therefore Our Saviour exhorts us in these words: "If, therefore, thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother has anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming, thou shalt offer thy gift" (St. Matt. v. 23, 24).
3. Let us render good for evil according to the words of the apostle: "If thy enemy be hungry, give him to eat : if he thirst, give him to drink. For, doing this, thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head" (Rom. xii. 20).
The sons of Jacob had treated their brother Joseph most cruelly and had deserved severe punishment. When Joseph held them in his power, he could easily have revenged himself on them. But he not only refrained from taking revenge, but moreover loaded them with benefits after the death of their father Jacob (Gen. 1. 21).
David was threatened with death by Saul, to whom he had rendered great service, and was obliged to flee. Saul pursued him with 3,000 men in the desert, and searched all the nooks and caves for him, but David knew the hiding-places in the desert better than he. Once he was so near Saul that he could have killed him, but he contented himself with cutting off the hem of his robe, and sent it to Saul in order to show him that he could have put him to death. Another time David went in the night with his armor-bearer Abisai into Saul's tent, and Abisai asked David to kill his persecutor. But David only took Saul's spear and his cup of water with him, and thus showed to the king that God had given him in his power, but that he had honored in Saul the anointed of the Lord (1 Kings xxiv. 1 -1 2). The proto-martyr St. Stephen gave us, like Our Saviour Himself, an example of love towards our enemies. He not only forgave, but he prayed with his dying breath for his murderers in these words : " Lord, lay not this sin to their charge" (Acts vii. 59).
I will continue this in another post - which talks of the Works of Mercy.