10. How should we help the needy?
By corporal, as well as by spiritual, works of mercy. Our neighbor may be in bodily or spiritual want, or in both at the same time. To relieve him in the wants of the body is a corporal work of mercy, and to relieve him in his.wants of the soul, is a spiritual work of mercy. Now, as the soul is far superior to the body, a benefit conferred on the soul is, also, generally speaking, far superior to a benefit conferred on the body. In some particular cases, however, a corporal work of mercy, may be better than a spiritual work of mercy, because it may be more necessary. For a man dying of hunger, a loaf of bread is better than an eloquent discourse or a salutary counsel.
In the practice of charity a certain order must be observed. This order is determined by the ties of kindred, of country, and of religion. Hence, when our nearest relations are in distress, nature and charity require us to relieve them in preference to others, because they are more closely united to us by the ties of kindred and friendship. If, however, one of our nearest relatives is only in ordinary want, and a stranger is in extreme want, we are bound by the precept of charity to relieve the stranger in preference to our nearest relative. If a poor person is in extreme want and in danger of death by starvation we are obliged to relieve him with those means of ours which are not necessary for the preservation of our own life. If our neighbor is in great want, we are obliged to assist him with those means which we do not need for our condition of life.
11. Which are the corporal works of mercy ?
1. To feed the hungry;
2. to give drink to the thirsty;
3. to clothe the naked;
4. to harbor the harborless;
5. to visit the sick;
6. to visit the imprisoned;
7. to bury the dead.
God has made the rich depend on the poor, and the poor on the rich. The rich should take care of the poor, in order that the poor may take care of the rich. The misery of the poor is corporal. The misery of the rich is generally spiritual. The rich, therefore, should give corporal relief to the poor, in order to receive from them spiritual aid in turn. Without the assistance of the rich, the poor would die corporally. Without the prayers and blessings of the poor, the rich would die spiritually. Graces and chastisements are in the hands of the poor. When they implore mercy for him who aids them, God grants their prayers. When they demand justice against those who send them away empty, God also grants their prayers. "Son, defraud not the poor of alms, and turn not away thy eyes from the poor. For the prayer of him that curseth thee in the bitterness of his soul shall be heard: for he that made him will hear him." (Ecclus. iv., 1., 6.)
A rich man is in danger of losing his soul when he has not the prayers and blessings of the poor. In this world, the rich are the judges of the poor. In the world to come, the poor will be the judges of the rich. Those who have not the poor for their advocates, will not find grace with their judge. He who has the poor to plead for him, need not fear, but may rejoice. Those, therefore, who are able to give alms, are strictly obliged by the precept of charity, to relieve the needy, especially those who are ashamed to beg. "He that hath the substance of this world, and shall see his brother in want, and shut up his heart from him, how doth the charity of God abide in him?" (1 John iii.,17.) "Be you, therefore, perfect," says our Lord, "as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt v., 48.) In these words, Jesus Christ points out to us his heavenly Father as the model of our charity.
We cannot imitate the omnipotence of God by performing miracles. We cannot multiply bread, change water into wine, give sight to the blind, speech to the dumb, hearing to the deaf, raise the dead to life, as Christ did. But no one has an excuse, if he does not imitate the charity of God. In his charity, God has created the heavens to give us light and rain; the fire to give us warmth ; the air to preserve our life; the earth to give us various kinds of fruit; the sea to give us fish; the animals to give us food and clothing ! In his charity, God the Father has given us his only-begotten Son, and his Son gave himself to us in the manger of Bethlehem, and upon the cross, and he gives himself still every day upon our altars, at each holy Mass, and in each holy Communion. God is almighty ; but his omnipotence is not able to give us any thing greater as a proof of his unspeakable charity towards us. He has given heaven ; he has given earth ; he has given his kingdom, he has given himself; what more has he to give ! Ah ! how prodigal is he of himself!
Now, this charity of God is most wonderful for five reasons :
1. On account of the greatness and majesty of the lover and giver; for who can be greater and more exalted than the Lord of heaven and earth ?
2. On account of the condition of those to whom he communicates Himself with all his gifts. By nature, they are but men, the lowest of rational beings ; they are proud, ungrateful, carnal sinners, prone to every evil ; they are mortal, corrupt, vile creatures, doomed to become one day the food of worms. "What is man," exclaims the Psalmist, "that Thou art mindful of him, or the son of man, that Thou visitest him ? "(Ps. viii., 5.)
3. This charity of God is wonderful on account of the manifold and extraordinary gifts which he partly confers on men, and partly offers them. These are a rational soul, created in God's own Image and Likeness ; His grace ; the promise of glory ; the protection of his Angels ; the whole visible world ; and finally, his own well-beloved Son. "For God so loved the world as to give his only-begotten Son ; that whosoever believeth in him, might not perish, but might have life everlasting." (John iii., 16.)
4. This charity of God is wonderful on account of the end for which he confers all these benefits, that is, for the happiness of man, and not for his own happiness ; for God does not expect to receive any advantage from man.
5. On account of the manner in which he communicates himself to men. It is peculiar to God s infinite love to lower himself to what is vile and despicable, to heal what is ailing, to seek what is rejected, to exalt what is humble, and to pour out his riches where they are most needed. He often communicates himself even before he is asked, as he does in all the so-called preventing graces, by which he moves the soul to pray for subsequent ones. He even gives more than is asked. The good thief on the cross asked of our dear Saviour to remember him in his kingdom. But our Lord did more than that; he promised him paradise. " Amen; I say to you; this day thou shalt be with me in Paradise." (Luke xxiii,, 42.) God often lavishes his blessings upon those who abuse them, and are ungrateful for them; nay, he lavishes them even upon the worst of his enemies upon infidels, atheists, heretics, blasphemers. "Be you the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh his sun to rise upon the good and the bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust." (Matt, v., 45.) This charity of our Lord must be our model. "Be, therefore, followers of God as most dear children, and walk in charity," says St. Paul. (Eph. v., 1, 2.)
We need no money to buy charity, nor is it necessary for us to cross seas and travel into far-distant countries to find it. Charity is natural to man. He who is destitute of it, is said to have no heart, and, therefore, nothing is more detestable in the eyes of men than want of charity. Every one should be able to say with Job : "I was an eye to the blind, and a foot to the lame. I was the father of the poor." (Xxix. 15.) The goods of this world were made for man s benefit. If they had eyes, feet, and understanding, they would go where they are most needed. Now, if a man has charity, he will lend to them his feet to go, his eyes to see, and his tongue to inquire, where they are needed. Indeed, what are the goods of this world ? Are they not the alms which men have received from the Lord! "The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine," saith the Lord of Hosts by the Prophet Aggaeus. (Chap, ii., 9.) Men are all beggars before God. "What hast thou," says St. Paul, "that thou hast not received ?" (II. Cor. iv., 7.)
The Lord bestows these goods upon men in order that by means of them they may be enabled to imitate His mercy, charity and liberality. God wishes that men, His children, should resemble Him as much as possible. The more they endeavor to become like unto Him, the more He is delighted with them. "The Lord values a perfect soul more highly than a thousand imperfect ones," says St. Alphonsus. The reason of this is, because "there is nothing more like unto God," says Plato, " than a holy man."
Out of a thousand likenesses of himself, an emperor will value that one most highly which represents him most perfectly. In like manner, God values a soul in which His Image and Likeness shine forth most perfectly, more than a thousand others which resemble Him less perfectly. Hence, all good Christians apply themselves constantly to their spiritual progress ; they try to enrich their souls every day with greater merits ; they endeavor to embellish them more and more by acts of charity and liberality towards their fellow-men. They know that they cannot become like unto God, by any thing better than by the practice of the virtue of mercy. This truth is declared in Holy Scripture by the Holy Ghost Himself. "In judging be merciful to the fatherless as a father, and as a husband to their mother, and thou shalt be as the obedient Son of the Most High, and He will have mercy on thee more than a mother." (Ecclus iv., 10.) To suffer with hunger, is so great a pain that many, to satisfy the cravings of hunger, have eaten most disgusting things. During the siege of Jerusalem (A. D. 68.), the famine had become so fearful in this doomed city that the inhabitants had recourse to the most horrible expedients to procure a single morsel of food. They dragged the dead from their graves, in the wild hope of finding food. A woman, a mother, murdered her own infant, roasted it and ate one half of its body, and presented the remainder to the famished soldiers, whom the odor of this execrable meal had attracted to the spot. "It is my son," she said "be not more tender than a woman, nor more compassionate than a mother."
Many of the readers of these lines will still remember the terrible time of famine in Ireland. There were thousands and thousands wasting away and dying of hunger. They were falling and dying as the leaves fall in autumn. To supply, then, with food the poor and the hungry is a work of charity most pleasing to God. Among the many thousands of Israelites who were led away by Salmanazar into Assyria, there was one, by the name of Tobias, who, for his charity, was distinguished from all the rest. As he had full leave from the king to go where he pleased, he went freely from one part of the country to another, to give all the comfort and assistance in his power to his fellow-captives. "He fed the hungry, and gave clothes to the naked." (Tob. i.) In going about he met a man named Gabelus, who was in great distress. Now, as he had money at his disposal, he loaned to Gabelus ten talents of silver. "From my infancy, " says Job, "mercy grew up with me. I have not denied to the poor what they desired. I have not made the eyes of the widow wait. I have not eaten my morsel alone,the fatherless have eaten thereof." (Job,xxxi.) The saints rejoice in having an opportunity of practising charity, and they feel sad if such an opportunity is wanting. In order to have always such an opportunity, many of the saints fed a certain number of poor people every day, others sold every thing they had, and even contracted debts, to relieve the poor and needy.
St. Louis, King of France, used to feed some poor people at his table, and he himself waited upon them : it was his firm belief that, in the person of the poor, he had Jesus Christ Himself for his guest. He gave money to them with his own hands, because they are, said he, my soldiers to defend my kingdom, I myself; then? must pay their salary. St. Charles Borromeo sold one of his estates for forty thousand dollars to relieve the poor. St. Serapion gave away even part of his clothing. Upon being asked why he did so, he pointed to the Gospel and said : "Behold what has robbed me of every thing ! "He gave in alms even the Gospel book itself. (Life.) St. Camillus de Lellis contracted a debt of thirty thousand dollars for the relief of the poor. Our Lord preserved the right arm of St. Oswald, king of England, uncorrupt, because He wished thus to honor him for having given with his right hand so many alms to the poor. (Butler s Lives of the Saints.)St. John the Almoner, Patriarch of Alexandria, was, as it were, an ocean of aims , the more he bestowed, the
more he received. The saint tells us what especially induced him to practice this virtue. "When I was fifteen years old," he says, "and lived in Cyprus, I saw in a dream a virgin of charming beauty, with a splendid crown on her head. She drew near me, and gently struck me with her hand. I was frightened, and awoke from my sleep- When I asked her who she was, and whence she had come,
and how she could dare come near me whilst asleep, she smiled, cast upon me a most gracious look, and said in joyful accents : I am the first among the king s daughters. If you have me for your friend, you will also have the king for your most intimate friend. No one enjoys more his confidence, and stands in higher favor with him than I. It was I who persuaded him to leave heaven for earth, there to become man. After having reflected on this vision for some time, I thought that it meant mercy and charity. I rose at once and went to church. On my way thither, I met a poor man who was almost naked, and shivering with cold. I took off my coat and gave it to him, saying to myself: Now let me see whether the vision I had was true. Before I reached the church, a certain man came and gave me one hundred dollars in gold, and then disappeared suddenly. Now I felt persuaded that the vision was no illusion, but a true vision from God." (Life by Leontius.) From that time the saint devoted himself so much to works of charity that he became the example and admiration of the whole world. "It is not right for us, " he used to say, "to attend to the affairs of others sooner than to those of Jesus Christ. Go, then, about in the town, and
take up the names of all my masters." And on being asked who they were whom he called his masters, he answered : "They are those whom you call the poor and needy. They are my masters and my helpers. For they alone are able to assist me, that I may not be excluded from life everlasting. And no sooner have I given away something, than I receive it back a hundred-fold." This saint, while admiring the great goodness of God who sent him so many good things, was often heard to exclaim : "So ! so ! my Lord ! Let us see whether Thou art more liberal in sending means than I in bestowing them !" One day Sophronius saw this saint much cast down. He asked him the cause of his sadness. "I feel unhappy to-day," he answered, "because I had no opportunity to offer to God something in expiation of my sins by assisting the poor."
To be continued . . . . . . . . . .