All men are our neighbors. By our neighbor we are not to understand merely our parents, our friends, our benefactors, our fellow-citizens, or those who profess the same faith with us; our neighbor means all men, without exception of persons, or distinction of creed ; strangers as well as fellow-country-men; heretics, Jews, and idolaters as well as Catholics, our enemies as well as our friends. If the love of God the Holy Ghost is in us, it will make us love all men Jews, Greeks, barbarians, Christians, pagans, infidels, heretics; the just and sinners; parents and strangers; friends and enemies; benefactors and malefactors. He who excludes but one man from his love shows that he loves no one with true Christian charity, for the motives of charity are always the same. If, for God's sake I love him who pleases me, I must also, for God's sake, love him who displeases me ; for both are the creatures of God, made in his image ; both are bought with his blood, both are called to his eternal glory.
Our dear Lord, therefore, will despise us, if we despise our fellow-men. He will hate us, if we hate them. He will afflict us, if we afflict them. On the contrary, he will excuse us, if we excuse our fellow-men. He will support us, if we support them. He will pardon us, if we pardon them. In a word, he will treat us, as we treat them. We shall be judged by the charity which we have shown to our neighbor. "He that loveth not, abideth in death," that is in a state of damnation. (1 John, iii, 14.)
"But he in whom charity abides, abideth in God, and God in him." (1 John, iv., 16.) "Charity is the fulfilment of the law." (Rom., xiii. 10.) Ought we, then, to have the same charity for all men without distinction ?
I answer, we should love our neighbor as God loves him. Now God loves all men far more than we can understand but he does not love all with the same degree of love. As he is a Being of infinite perfection, he loves himself with infinite love. Next to himself he loves most those who most resemble him and who are most intimately united to him. Out of a thousand likenesses every one prefers that which is the most correct. In like manner out of a thousand souls God loves that one most, which is nearest to him in perfection. God's love for men, then, is in proportion to their merit and their virtue. Now this love of God for our neighbor should be our model.
Although he has commanded us to love all men, yet he does not require us to love all alike. The holier a man is, the more we should love him. We ought to have a love of preference for those in the highest degree of sanctity. We also owe a special love to our parents. In every act a just proportion must be observed between the object and the agent. The nature of the act, whether good or bad, proceeds from the object,and its in tensity from the agent. Now those who are more advanced in virtue than our parents, and consequently partake more abundantly of the gifts of God, have according to the principles of perfect charity a greater claim on our love than even our parents. But we naturally love our parents more intensely, for both grace and nature inspire us with more affection and sympathy for them. The ties uniting us to them are not only closer but also more indissoluble in fact death alone can dissolve them. It is, therefore, not contrary to true charity to be more strongly attached to our parents than to others who may be even more perfect.
Ought we to love our relatives more than those who are united to us by the ties of friendship, of society, profession, and temporal affairs ? There is no union more lasting and indissoluble than that of blood-relationship. All who are united by such ties derive their existence from the same source. All other ties and associations are but accidental and transitory : such, for instance, are the relations of citizens with regard to their habitation, their temporal and civil affairs, the relations of merchants in business and commerce; and the friendship of soldiers who live in the same camp and the same barracks. The ties of blood-relation ship on the contrary are the foundation of society. They hold together families, generations, and the entire nation. They survive the dissolution of all other associations, and are well-nigh imperishable.
If we owe a love of preference to our parents and relatives on account of the ties of nature, we owe also a special love to our country. The love of our native country is paramount to all other natural affections. The prosperity and independence of our native land are to be preferred even to the welfare of parents or kindred, says St. Thomas Aquinas. There are other degrees of charity between parents and children, husband and wife. St. Ambrose says that man should love God first, then his parents, then his children, and finally his relatives. As to our love for father and mother, St. Jerome says that after God, who is our common and eternal Father, we ought to love our father more than our mother. As to the husband he ought to have more affection for his wife than for his parents : for the Apostle says that the husband should love his wife as his own flesh. "They are not now two, but one flesh." (Matt., xix., 6.) Nevertheless according to the supernatural order and principle of charity, he ought to have more veneration for his parents than even for his wife. The same principle applies to* the duties and sentiments of the wife.
To be continued . . . . . . . . . . . . . .