Our divine Lord has said that His disciples should be known by their love one for another. This christian virtue of charity makes us love our neighbor in God, the creature for the sake of the Creator. Love of God, love of our neighbor,—these virtues are two branches springing from the same trunk and having but one and the same root.
Assist your brethren in their needs whenever you can. However, you should always be careful to consult the laws of prudence in this matter and to be guided by your means and position. Supply by a desire to do good for the material aid you are unable to give.
When your neighbor offends you he does not cease on that account to be the creature and the image of God; therefore the christian motive you have for loving him still exists. He is not, perhaps, worthy of pardon, but has not our Savior Jesus Christ, who so often has forgiven you much more grievous offenses, merited it for him?
Observe, however, that we can scarcely avoid feeling some repugnance for those who have offended us, but to feel and to consent are two distinct and widely different things, as we have already said. When religion commands us to love our enemies, the commandment is addressed to the superior portion of the soul, the will, not to the inferior portion in which reside the carnal affections that follow the natural inclinations.
In a word, when we speak of charity the question is not of that human friendship which we feel for those who are naturally pleasing to us, a sentiment wherein we seek merely our own satisfaction and which therefore has nothing in common with charity.
“Charity makes us love God above all things; and our neighbor as ourselves with a love not sensual, not natural, not interested, but pure, strong and unwavering, and having its foundation in God…. A person is extremely sweet and agreeable and I love her tenderly: or, she loves me well and does much to oblige me, and on that account I love her in return. Who does not see that this affection is according to the senses and the flesh?
For animals that have no soul but only a body and senses, love those who are good and gentle and kind to them. Then there is another person who is brusque and uncivil, but apart from this is really devout and even desirous of becoming gentler and more courteous: consequently, not for any gratification she affords me, or for any self-interested motive whatever, but solely for the good pleasure of God, I talk to her, aid her, love her. This is the virtue of charity indeed, for nature has no share in it.”—Saint Francis de Sales.
The literal and exact fulfillment of the evangelical precept is often found impracticable. How, we say, is it possible to have for all men indiscriminately that extreme sensibility we feel for everything that touches us individually, that constant solicitude for our spiritual or temporal interests, that delicacy of feeling that we reserve for ourselves and for certain objects specially dear to us?
—And yet it is literally au pied de la lettre, that our Lord’s precept should be observed. What then is to be done? An answer will be found in the following passage from Fénelon, and we shall see that it is not a question of exaggerating the love of one’s neighbor, but of moderating self-love, and thus making both the one and the other alike subordinate to the love of God:
“To love our neighbor as ourselves does not mean that we should have for him that intense feeling of affection that we have for ourselves, but simply that we wish for him, and from the motive of charity, what we wish for ourselves. Pure and genuine love, love having for its sole end the object beloved, should be reserved for God alone, and to bestow it elsewhere is a violation of a divine right.”
But although it is forbidden us to show hatred or to entertain it voluntarily against the wicked and those who have offended us, this is not meant to prevent us from defending ourselves or taking such precautions against them as prudence suggests.
Christian charity obliges and disposes us to love our enemies and to be good to them when there is occasion to do so; but it should not carry us so far as to protect the wicked, nor leave us without defense against their aggressiveness. It allows us to be vigilant in guarding against their encroachments, and to take precautions against their machinations.
Always be ready and willing to excuse the faults of your neighbor, and never put an unfavorable interpretation upon his actions. The same action, says Saint Francis de Sales, may be looked upon under many different aspects: a charitable person will ever suppose the best, an uncharitable one will just as certainly choose the worst.
“Do not weigh so carefully the sayings and doings of others, but let your thought of them be simple and good, kindly and affectionate. You should not exact of your neighbor greater perfection than of yourself, nor be surprised at the diversity of imperfections; for an imperfection is not more an imperfection from the fact that it is extravagant and peculiar.”*
It is very difficult for a good christian to become really guilty of rash judgment, in the true sense of the word,—which is that, without just reasons or sufficient grounds he forms and pronounces in his own mind in a positive manner a condemnation of his neighbor. The grave sin of rash judgment is frequently confounded with suspicion or even simple distrust, which may be justifiable on much slighter grounds.
Suspicion is permissible when it has for its aim measures of just prudence; charity forbids gratuitously malevolent thoughts, but not vigilance and precaution.
Suspicion is not only permissible, but it is at times an important duty for those who are charged with the direction and guardianship of others. Thus it is a positive obligation for a father in regard to his children, and for a master in regard to his servants, whenever there is occasion to correct some vice they know exists, or to prevent some fault they have reasonable cause to fear.
As to simple mistrust, which should not be confused with suspicion, it is only an involuntary and purely passive condition, to which we may be more or less inclined by our natural disposition without our free-will being at all involved. Mistrust, suspicion, rash judgment are then three distinct and very different things, and we should be careful not to confound them.
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