Good Friday, the day when our Saviour hung wounded and dying on the Cross, is the day in all the year when we ought particularly to remember this new Commandment. Look at the Cross! On it, between two malefactors, hangs One who is all love, more holy, more innocent than any other who ever lived on earth. He, the Son of the Most High, for love of us left the glory that He enjoyed with the Father, before the world was made, in order to redeem His people and make them happy for ever. He loaded them with benefits, He embraced and blessed their children, He healed their sick, He raised their dead to life, and desired in His unspeakable love to gather all around Him, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings—and, in return for all this, the men of His own nation nailed Him to the shameful wood of the Cross.
See how His head is bent, to give us the kiss of peace; His arms are outstretched to embrace us; His side is opened to show us the way to His heart; His hands and feet are pierced with nails and fastened to the Cross to assure us of the fidelity and permanence of His love; His sacred Blood streams from countless wounds in order to wash away the guilt of our sins, and He dies that we may live. How infinitely great is His love! Was it not right that, when "The, the most faithful of all lovers, the chief of benefactors, died, the sun should veil its face, and the very Angels weep for sorrow? Was it not right that when He, who was innocence itself, was overwhelmed with shame and suffering, the earth should be moved in its innermost depths? Was it not right that the graves should open and allow the dead to proclaim the love which men in their ingratitude refused to recognize? Even the murderer on the cross cried out: "Lord, remember me, when Thou comest to Thy Kingdom,"* and the pagan centurion in horror exclaimed: "Truly, this man, was the Son of God." How is it possible for our hearts to remain cold and unmoved? My intellect is too mean old my speech too feeble for me to say what I fain would say on the subject of Christ's love, but He, as He hangs dying upon the Cross, teaches more emphatically than any words could do, "Love one another, as I have loved you." Surely you will not refuse to listen to this, His dying utterance; surely, you will reply with all the earnestness of which you are capable: "Yes, Lord, we will love one another, as Thou hast loved us. In return for Thy love we can offer nothing but love."
This new Commandment given by our Saviour is to be the subject of our meditation today. I desire, after invoking the aid of the Holy Ghost, to speak of our Lord as (1) the source and (2) the example of love.
1. We hear a great deal nowadays about brotherly love; it is extolled to the clouds and described in the most exquisite and enthusiastic terms. In the sixteenth century the Reformers represented faith alone as the chief ground of all salvation, and condemned active charity as actually wrong; but now the reverse doctrine is inculcated, and faith, we are told, is of quite subordinate importance, whilst charity is essential. Men say it is a matter of indifference whether or no we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and Redeemer of the world; and maintain it to be impossible for mankind to be united in a common faith, hence all must adopt as their bond of union the law of charity, to which everything worth keeping in religion inevitably tends. Of course this law of charity was the first great Commandment laid down by Jesus Christ; it is His bequest to us, and the fulfilment of the whole law, and in this sense those outside the Church have adopted the principle of charity as their entire creed. But this principle, though easily recognized and enunciated, is not thereby put into practice. A reign of love cannot suddenly be established in this world. No one intending to build a house begins with the gables, but with the foundations, and if we want to gather fruit, we must first have a tree to bear it. This remark applies also to charity, which is, as it were, the gable, necessitating the previous existence of the foundations, and the fruit, that can never be produced without a tree. Now the foundation and root of charity is the Christian faith.
This faith teaches that God is the Father of all men, that we are His children, and that no one can love Him, who does not also love his neighbor. St. John writes: "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 Commandemnt we have from God, that he who loveth God love also his brother" (I . John iv, 20-21).
Faith teaches that Jesus Christ redeemed us all with His most precious Blood, so that we might be His brethren and members of that sacred body, of which He Is the Head, and for this reason we all ought to love one another, "You are the body of Christ," says St. Paul, "and members of members," i.e., members of it. "He that saith he abideth in Christ, ought himself to walk, even as He walked" (I. John ii, 6). "This is His Commandment that we should . . . love one another" (I. John iii, 23).
Faith teaches that the Holy Ghost sanctifies the heart of every Christian and renders it a temple of God, that we are destined for everlasting happiness, and that one day we shall all be with God, but all this depends upon our love of one another. "We know," says St. John, "that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren. He that loveth not, abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in himself" (I. John iii, 14, 15). Could there possibly be any higher and more constraining motives for love than these truths? But true brotherly love cannot exist and thrive without faith in Jesus Christ, in whom all men are united. The pagans of old possessed intelligence enough to appreciate the importance of love; they had hearts capable of being moved by the sufferings of others, but they did not know the law of brotherly love, proclaimed by Christianity and admitting of no exceptions. Their love was fickle, self-interested and untrustworthy, like that of children. They oppressed, despised and enslaved the poor and weak, and there are very few instances of their practicing the virtues of meekness, gentleness, mercy and others which contribute so much to the charm and happiness of social intercouse. Even the Jews had a law: "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" but so many additions had been made to it by the Pharisees, that it was completely altered and deprived of all force and efficacy. That was why our Saviour said: "A new Commandment."
If the Jews, who had received from heaven the Commandment of charity, were unable to obey it in all its fulness, it is still less likely that other non-Christians can do so. Faith is the foundation and root of charity; so how is it possible for the socialists, who do not believe in God, or in His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ! our example in brotherly love, to practise this virtue, and allow it to influence all their thoughts and actions as it should for the benefit of their neighbors? Charity is not merely a matter of sentiment, it concerns chiefly our will and behavior. By nature we are weak and prone to evil; we desire to do right, but fail to accomplish it. If we follow the impulse of our own hearts, and resolve to display by our acts the love that we feel for our brethren, we are often hindered by self-love and worldly considerations. For instance, suppose that you suffer some wrong; your own heart perhaps suggests that it is your duty to forgive, but your pride calls for revenge. What is the result? Do you offer your hand to the person who has injured you, and seek to be reconciled with him ? Or do you requite evil for evil, and avoid him, plotting vengeance in your heart? Or suppose that your brother is in great distress, and needs help at once; he comes to you, asking your assistance. Do you give it? Do you help him to the utmost of your power, or do you send him away, pleading that every man ought to look after his own interests, and therefore you cannot assist him. We must confess that we are naturally selfish, revengeful and slow to make sacrifices. Where shall we find a support in our weakness? What will strengthen our will and make us comply with the demands of charity, and overcome the obstacles suggested by our self-love, ambition, self indulgence and avarice? Our intellect cannot help us, for it is weakened and clouded by sin; our hearts are under the sway of our evil passions, and we find help nowhere, save in the faith of Jesus Christ and in the efficacy of His merits. "I am the Vine," He says, "you are the branches; he that abideth in Me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing" (John xv, 5). "Of His fulness we all have received, and grace for grace" (John i , 16). He shows forth His strength in the feeble, and enables us to will and to accomplish every good work through the Holy Ghost, which, He assures us, all shall receive who believe in Him" (John vii, 39). Now the fruit of the Spirit is, according to St. Paul, "charity, joy, peace, patience, benignity, goodness, longanimity, mildness, faith, modesty, continency, chastity" (Gal. v, 22, 23), and we receive this spirit of charity by means of prayer and the Sacraments, for our Father in heaven gives the good Spirit to them that ask Him** (Luke xi, 13).
This being the case, how could true brotherly love exist, thrive and bring forth its beautiful fruits among people like the socialists, who never pray, and who have no faith in Christ and the power of His grace? A tree cannot produce either blossom or fruit without nourishment from the soil and sunlight; and In the same way charity cannot live and bring forth fruit without the Divine stimulus and constant influence of grace, which is the fertilizing dew of heaven The true faith directs and quickens charity; apart from it we may shed tears of sympathy at the sight of another's misery, we may give alms or support some good work in consequence either of a transitory emotion or of a desire for admiration, we may revel in pleasing sentiments, we may observe the outward courtesies of social life, we may even talk eloquently about brotherly love, but all this is merely the outcome of our natural feelings, which subside as quickly as they are roused, and not unfrequently change to coldness, indifference, harshness, anger and hatred, when our self-love, avarice and self-indulgence are awakened. True, universal, unselfish charity, that shrinks from no sacrifice, can thrive only in the sunshine of grace and on the soil of the true faith. "This is the victory which overcometh the world, our faith" ( I . John v, 4). Here, if anywhere, are our Saviour's words peculiarly applicable: "By their fruits you shall know them. Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles? Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit, and the evil tree bringeth forth evil fruit" (Matt, vii, 16,17).
It is easy enough to discover the fruit which the Catholic Church, rooted in the true faith of Jesus Christ, has brought forth. Think of the Apostles' love of the brethren! "We are reviled," says St. Paul, "and we bless; we are persecuted, and we suffer it; we are blasphemed, and we entreat" ( I . Cor. iv, 12, 13); and elsewhere he writes: "We are in danger every hour; I die daily" ( I . Cor. xv, 31). How intensely did the early Christians love one another! We read in the Acts of the Apostles (iv, 32) that they had but one heart and one soul, i. e., that all were animated by the same spirit and the same faith, moreover "neither did any one say that aught of the things which he possessed was his own, but all things were common unto them." They looked upon their own property as something to which the brethren had an equal right, and distributed to the poor according to their need, so that the rich felt no pride and the poor no shame, all being full of charity. Their love for one another was so remarkable as not only to arouse astonishment on the part of their pagan neighbors, but also to make many converts. Tertullian tells us that the heathen used to say: "Behold how the Christians love one another, and each is as ready to die for his brother as if they were all begotten by the same father and born of the same mother; they are not separated by language, nor by nationality, nor by the customs of their own countries, nor by diversity of birthplace." The sight of this unselfish love existing among Christians had such an effect upon Pachomius, a pagan soldier in Constantine's army, that he was converted, and embraced the austere life of a hermit.
Not Christians alone, but also heathens bear witness to the care lavished by the early followers of Christ upon the sick and poor in their midst, and regard them in this respect as models for imitation. Julian the Apostate, who persecuted the Christians most cruelly, writes: "See how the Christians help their poor, and how they love one another! It is precisely this feature that has chiefly led to the growth of their superstition (such is the designation given by the apostate emperor to Christianity). Let us, too, build hospitals, for it would be a disgrace to us not to care as much for our poor as do the Jews and Galileans." Even the bitterest enemies of the Catholic Church acknowledge that she has everywhere erected hospitals for the sick and refuges for the poor, for widows and orphans, and that queens and noble ladies have renounced all worldly honors in order to become angels of consolation in these abodes of suffering. The same charity has founded many orders and peopled many religious houses established for the welfare of the human race; it has carried men over the sea and into pathless deserts, in order to rescue captives from the hands of the infidels, and to bring to those sitting in darkness and in the shadow of death the light of the Gospel and the glad tidings of salvation. This glowing flame of charity has never been extinguished in the Catholic Church; it burns now as brightly as ever, and in token of its persistence. I may remind you of the work of foreign missions, that is increasing day by day, of the hospitals that are continually being built, and entrusted to the famous congregations of nursing sisters; I may point to the various religious associations established for the mutual advantage, both spiritual and temporal, of their members; I may mention the money lavished without stint upon the poor, the oppressed and the suffering. Where will those who are led astray by the socialists find help in time of old age, sickness and poverty? They will find none to assist them except paid officials, who have no sympathy with their sorrows and pains, and treat those under their charge with disdainful harshness.
But let us pass on to other topics. I should not have mentioned these subjects today, the anniversary of our Lord's death, had not the task which I had undertaken rendered it necessary. You know that Christianity is called the religion of love, primarily because Jesus Christ, its Divine Founder, made the law of love His chief commandment, and the distinguishing mark of His disciples. "By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another" (John xiii, 35). How could anyone devoid of charity be a follower of Him, who for love of us gave up the glory that He enjoyed with the Father, and took upon Himself flesh and blood, "that He might become a merciful and faithful high-priest before God, that He might be a propitiation for the sins of the people" (Heb. ii, 17). What man, having no charity or mercy in his heart, could profess to accept the teaching of Him who had compassion on the multitude "because they were distressed and lying like sheep that have no shepherd" (Matt, ix, 36); who shed tears at the grave of His friend Lazarus, and at the sight of Jerusalem, the unhappy city, that refused to recognize the things that were to her peace, and who spent His whole life in going about and doing good? No one without love could be a true disciple of Him who bled and died upon the Cross for us, His enemies, the children of wrath. His last words were words of love and intercession for His murderers: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Therefore instead of exhorting you further to practise charity, I will only ask you to look up at the Cross, and learn from Him who hangs there, what kind of love we should have for our brethren, since without it we cannot be His disciples, nor can we claim a share in the fruits of His atonement. He says: "Love one another, as I have loved you." We have therefore to love one another in the way in which He loved us. Now His love was universal, self-sacrificing and disinterested; so our love ought to possess these three attributes,
2. (a). Our love ought to be universal, embracing every human being without exception, because Jesus Christ is the Saviour and Redeemer of all mankind, and died for all upon the Cross. "He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only* but also for those of the whole world" ( I . John ii, 2). Hence He could rightly say: "I , if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to myself (John x i i , 32). We need but look at the Gospels, to see how, during His life on earth, He regarded all men with equal love. He did good not only to the children of Israel, but also to pagans who came to Him in their troubles, beseeching His help. He loved sinners as well as the righteous, and did not refuse to sit at table with them. He treated rich and poor, high and low all alike, excluding no one from His love. "When He was reviled, He did not revile; when He suffered, He threatened not;" on the contrary He prayed on the Cross for those who had injured Him, condemned Him to death and crucified Him, and He even pleaded for them in the touching words: "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do."
If you desire to be His disciples, you must act as He did. All human beings, whether rich or poor, high or low, fellow countrymen or foreigners, friends or enemies, are God's children and your brethren in Christ. How can it be right for you to bestow your charity on one and refuse it to another? Is it just or Christian to love those only who profess the same faith and hold the same opinions as yourselves, and to show no charity to those who think otherwise and belong to another religion? Ought you to despise and scorn such people? No indeed; they may look down upon you, and refuse you a share in social and political life, but you must not requite evil with evil. Our Saviour's teaching is: "Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you; that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven, who maketh His sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust" (Matt, v, 44, 45). The law of charity knows no exceptions; it seeks to be all things to all men for Christ's sake.
(b) Our love must be self-sacrificing, and, as St. John says, we must "not love in words, nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth" (I . John iii, 18). Our Saviour's love was of this kind, and, as you know, His whole life, from His birth in the stable at Bethlehem to His death upon the Cross, was an unbroken series of acts of self sacrifice, performed for love of us. If you wish to be His disciples, go and do likewise; shrink from no exertion, no trouble, no sacrifice and no self-denial, when you have an opportunity of doing a charity to your brother. Do not listen to the suggestions of pride and passion, when you are slandered and insulted. Overcome your feelings of aversion! anger, hatred and revenge, and offer your hand to your brother in token of reconciliation. "If you love them that love you, what reward shall you haveP Do not even the publicans this?" said our Lord. To talk eloquently about brotherly love, to indulge in pleasing sentiments and to shed tears of sympathy over the sufferings of others are all beautiful things, but they are not the love required of us by our Saviour, nor the charity that He practiced Himself. Christian charity should be active, energetic and self-sacrificing; as St. Paul says, it "beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things" ( I . Cor. xiii, 7); it is always ready to help at any cost; it is unwearied, no matter how many claims are made upon it, and reveals its full strength
when it is most severely tried. It is not discouraged when it is misunderstood, oppressed and ill-treated, but shines forth then in all its heavenly purity. If means are lacking to assist the needy, charity can always have recourse to prayer, and often can offer consolation and advice.
(c) Finally, our love must be disinterested. Our Lord's love was absolutely disinterested; " I seek not My own glory," are His own words, and there is not a single passage in the Gospel from which we can infer that He gained anything by healing the blind, deaf and lame, the paralyzed or the lepers. We are never told that He helped others in order to be thanked, or to become famous, or to win popularity; on the contrary, He silenced every loud expression of applause and gratitude, and when those whom He had cured refused to hold their peace and desired to make Him king, He fled into the wilderness. He wished all glory to be ascribed to His Father, not to Himself, and therefore on the last evening of His life He could say: "I have-glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do" (John xvii, 4).
If you will be His disciples, go and do likewise. In all things give the glory to God and make it your sole aim to please Him; let love of God be the soul, the motive power and the object of every thought and action. If you keep nothing but your own advantage in view, and aim at winning the applause and praise of men; if you extol brotherly love, in order to be commended for so doing; if you are friendly towards your neighbors and contribute liberally to all charitable works merely for the sake of vain glory—then you do not resemble Jesus Christ, your Divine Example, but rather the Pharisees, of whom Holy Scripture tells us that they did all these things. "Take heed," says our Saviour, "that you do not your justice before men, to be seen by them; otherwise you shall not have a reward of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt, vi, i ) . Our Lord's Apostles thought at first too much of their own advantage, and this made them impatient and desirous of earthly honors. Hence they said: "Behold, we have left all things and have followed Thee; what, therefore, shall we have?" (Matt, xix, 27), and they disputed among themselves which of them should be the greatest (Mark ix, 33). But after they had received the Holy Ghost, and had been filled with love of God, they displayed the deepest humility, and not a trace of pride, and instead of asking who should be greatest, St. Paul writes: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or persecution, or the sword? . . . But in all these things we shall overcome because of Him that hath loved us" (Rom. viii, 35, 37).
Let us, therefore, love one another, as our Saviour hath loved us; let us have a love that is universal, self-sacrificing and disinterested, for then we shall be His true disciples, entitled to share the glory promised to those who persevere to the end in love and in keeping the Commandments. Let us often call to mind the love with which Christ loved us even unto death. Let us hold converse with Him daily, drawing pure love from Him, the sole source of love; let us daily strive to become more like Him and test our love by His standard!
A community, all the members of which followed their Lord and Master in the practise of universal, self-sacrificing and disinterested charity, would indeed be pleasing to God and the heavenly hosts. No one would seek his own advantage, but rather that of his neighbor; no one would love in word only, but in deed and in truth. There would be no place for pride, envy, avarice or ambition, since each would bear the other's burden, and so fulfil the law of Christ. None would be offended, slandered or wronged, and should one injure another, he would at once be forgiven. Each would sympathize heartily with the joys and sorrows of his neighbor, and give active expression to his good will. The employer would regard his workmen with brotherly love, not imposing too heavy burdens upon them, but giving each sufficient wages to support himself and his family. Workmen, laborers and servants would trust their masters, and be faithful and conscientious in the discharge of their duty. A poor man would not ask for alms in vain, nor would a sufferer weep and find none to console him; no sick man would toss untended on his bed of pain, no wounded man would lie by the wayside without the help of a good Samaritan, ready to aid him. Than peace, harmony and happiness would prevail, and all would look forward to the day when the just Judge should say: "Come, ye blessed of My Father, possess the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave Me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me to drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in; naked, and you covered Me; sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. . . . Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these, My least brethren, you did it to Me" (Matt, xxv, 34-40).
O, crucified Love, without Thee we can do nothing, but with Thine aid we can do all things. O, teach us and help us to love one another, even as Thou hast loved us. Amen.
Source: The Signs of the Times, Imprimatur 1915