Of the Merit and Excellence of Charity and Fraternal Union

by admin on July 27, 2010

BEHOLD, says the Prophet David, how good and pleasant a thing it is, for brethren to dwell together in uni­son! (Psalm cxxxii. 1). St. Jerome speaks of this psalm as applying properly to religious. “Lo,” he says, “what a good thing, what a subject of great joy it is, that for one brother we have left there in the world, we find so many gathered here in religion,” who live and cherish us better than our brothers in the flesh. “My brother in the flesh,” the saint goes on to say, “does not love me so much as my fortune.” That is what our relations are after. It is all self-interest. For that, they go after us; for that, they trouble us; and when that motive does not exist, they care nothing about us.* This is not true love, but self-interest. But your spir­itual brothers, who have already left and spurned all they had of their own, do not come here to seek after other peo­pled property. They love not your fortune, but your soul. That is true love. So says St. Ambrose: “The brotherhood of the spirit is greater than that of the flesh; for the broth­erhood of flesh and blood makes us like one another in body, but the brotherhood of the spirit makes us all have one heart and one soul, as was said of the first believers” (Acts iv. 32).

St. Basil insists very well on this great union of religious. “What thing more agreeable, what thing more happy and blessed, what thing more marvelous and admirable can be imagined?—to see men of so many different nations and countries so conformable and alike in their customs and mode of procedure that they seem to be but one soul in many bodies, and many bodies the instruments of one soul” —Homines eoc diversis nationibus ac regionibus profectos in unum veluti coaluisse, ut in pluribus corporibus per exactam morum ac disciplinae similitudinem adeo in unum veluti coaluisse, ut in pluribus corporibus unus modo esse animus videatur, vicissimque plura corpora mentis unius instrumenta cernantur.” That is set down in the Life of our blessed Father Ignatius for a great marvel and almost a miracle that God has wrought in the Society, to see a union and conformity so great and so well set between men of such different nations, so different and unequal either in natural character or in rank or in inclina­tion or in individual bent and disposition. Though our natures differ, yet grace and virtues and supernatural gifts make us mutually conformable and one. God it is who maketh men of one manner to dwell in a house (Psalm Ixvii. 7). That is the sense of the text.

And so great is the favor that the Lord in His goodness and mercy does us herein, that not only we who are here in religion enjoy it, but the odor thereof spreads and dif­fuses itself also to those outside in the world, to their great edification and profit and the great glory of God our Lord. Thus we see in the case of many of those who enter the Society that, when they are asked what moved and inclined them thereto, they say it was this union and brotherly spirit which they saw in it. This agrees very well with what St. Augustine says on these same words: Behold what a good and pleasant thing it is for brethren to dwell together in unity: “At this sound so pleasant, at this voice so sweet, men have been roused to leave their parents and properties and band together in religious life. This is the trumpet that has called them together and united them

from various quarters of the world, taking this union and mutual charity to be a heavenly life. This it is that has brought forth monasteries and peopled religious houses: this the lodestone that has attracted hearts.”—Iste dulcis sonus, ista melodia etiam monasteria peperit. Thus, of the three things that the Wise Man mentions as very pleasing to God, the first is concord and union among brethren (Ecclus. xxv. 1).

We have two precepts of this charity. The one is the first and principal commandment, to love God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, and with all our strength. The second is to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is of this second precept that we have to treat here; since that it is that makes the union and brotherhood of which we purpose to treat. This union of souls and hearts is the effect and property of this charity and love, which, as St. Denis says, has the power to unite and draw things to one another. So St. Paul calls it the bond of perfection (Col. iii. 14), the perfect tie and bond which binds together things that were apart and makes of many wills one. It makes me seek for others what I seek for myself; it makes me seek it as for myself; it makes my friend a second self; it makes us be as one thing. So St. Augustine approved the saying of him who called his friend, “the half of my soul”—dimidium animae meae—one soul divided among two bodies. That we may see the value and excellence of this charity and love of our neighbor and what a store the Lord sets by it, let us begin with these last words of Christ. St. Chrysostom here calls attention to the fact that, when Christ our Lord has laid down this first and greatest commandment of lov­ing God, He proceeds at once to the second commandment of loving our neighbor and says that it is next to the first. See, says the saint, the goodness and bounty of the Lord, that notwithstanding the infinite distance there is between man and God, He requires us to love our neighbor with a love so near and so like to the love with which we love God.

He fixes in a manner the same measure to the love of our neighbor as He fixed to the love of God, since of God He says that we should love Him with our whole heart and with our whole soul and of our neighbor He says that we should love him as we love ourselves. As when here on earth we wish well to a person and would fain commend him to another, we are wont to say: “If you love him, you will be loving me,” so, says St. Chrysostom, that is what Christ our Redeemer wished to tell us in saying the second is like to the first (Matt. xxii. 39); if you love your neigh­bor, you will be loving God. And so He said to St. Peter, Feed my sheep (John xxi. 17), as though He would say: “If you love me, take care of them who are mine, and in that it will be seen that you love me in right down good earnest.”

But further, the Lord wishes us to love our neighbor with the same love wherewith we love Him. This is the new commandment that He gives us. A new commandment I give you, that ye love one another as I have loved you (John xiii. 34). As Christ has loved us purely for God and for God’s sake, so He wishes also that we should love our neighbor for God and for God’s sake. He calls it a new commandment, says St. Augustine, not only because He has newly explained and newly commended it to us by word and example, but because it is really something new that He is asking of us. Natural love is a love very old and very ancient, founded as it is on flesh and blood; it is a love that not only the good but the wicked also feel; and not only men, but dumb animals. Every animal loveth his own like (Ecclus. xiii. 19). But the love wherewith Christ would have us love our neighbors and brethren is a new love, because it must be a love spiritual and supernatural, loving our neighbor for God with the same love of charity wherewith we love God. And so theologians and saints observe that the love wherewith we love God for God and that wherewith we love our neighbor for God, is one and the same charity and virtue. They call it a theological, that is to say, a divine, virtue; a virtue that has God for its aim and object, because the infinite goodness of God is worthy of being loved for its own sake, and for it at the same time we also love our neighbor.

Finally, in the whole of Holy Writ we shall find no point more strongly urged nor more frequently recommended and repeated, than this union and fraternal charity. And Christ our Redeemer at the time of His leave-taking, in that last discourse at the Supper, harks back upon it to com­mend it to us once and again. This is my commandment, that ye love one another as I have loved you. And again He says: This I command you, that ye love one another (John xv. 12, 17). This I command you as My last will and testament. He would have us thereby see how much He desired that this should be stamped and rooted in our hearts, knowing of what importance it was for us, and that thereon depended the whole law and the fulfillment of all the rest of the commandments, according to the saying of the Apostle: He that loveth his neighbor hath fulfilled the law (Rom. viii. 8). And thence His beloved disciple took this doctrine; he seems to treat of nothing else in his canonical epistles, having sucked it in from the breasts of his Mas­ter. St. Jerome tells of him that, when he was very old and could scarcely go to church, but it was necessary for his disciples to carry him in their arms, his only preaching was this: “My sons, love one another.” His disciples, wearied and tired of his always repeating the same thing, said to him: “Master, why do you always tell us that?” He replied, says St. Jerome, in a sentence worthy of St. John: “Because it is the Lord’s commandment; and if you fulfill it, that alone is sufficient.” For all the law is fulfilled in one saying: thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself (Gal. v. 14). If you keep this commandment, you keep all.

St. Augustine here reflects on the weight and stress that the Lord laid on this commandment, wishing it to be the sign and device by which the world should know us and take us for His disciples. In this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if ye have love one for another (John xiii. 35). Christ our Redeemer does not stop here, but in the prayer which He made to His eternal Father (John xvii.), He not only wishes that hereby men should know us for His disciples, but also that there should be such a union and brotherhood amongst us as to be enough to convince the world of the truth of our faith and religion, and that Christ is the Son of God. I ask thee, Eternal Father, not only for these my disciples, but also for all those who by means of them are to believe in me, that they may all be one among themselves, as thou in me and I in thee, that the world may believe that thou hast sent me (John xvii. 20). Could He have said more to heighten the excellence of this union and brotherhood, since it is enough and should be enough for the world to trust it to be the work of the com­ing of the Son of God into the world, and yield itself up to receive the Christian doctrine and religion?

The truth and force of this is well seen in what happened to Pacomius, who, being a soldier in the army of Constantine the Great and a heathen, had no rations to give to his soldiers; and they were dying of hunger. In this plight they came to a town where they met with a kind reception, and the townsmen banded together to bring them all things needful in such plenty and with such good will that Pacomeus was amazed and asked who these people were that they were so inclined to do good. They answered him that they were Christians, whose institute it was to harbor all and help all and do them good. He lifted up his hands to heaven and, calling God to witness, he pledged himself to the Christian religion. That was his motive for becoming a convert and believing that this was the true faith and religion.

The Redeemer of the world adds another thing that is very consoling: I ask thee, Eternal Father, that they may be one with one another, that the world may know that thou lovest them for themselves as thou lovest me for myself (John xvii. 23). One of the chief signs whereby is seen a love of special predilection borne by God to a con­gregation—a privileged and singular love on the model and likeness of the love that He bears to His own Son—is His giving them this grace of union and brotherhood with one another, as we see He gave and imparted it to the primitive Church, to those people who enjoyed the first-fruits of the Spirit. And so says St. John: // we love one another, God abideth in us, and his charity is perfect in us (I John iv. 12). If we love one another, it is a sign that God dwells in us and loves us much. If where two or three are gath­ered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them, so He says (Matt, xviii. 26), what shall it be where so many are united and gathered together in His name and for His love? In order, then, that we may enjoy these so many good things and hold this so great assurance of God’s dwelling in us and loving us with a special love, let us endeavor to maintain ourselves always in this charity and union.

Excerpt from Practice of Perfection and Christian Virtues by Alphonsus Rodriguez, translated by Joseph Rickaby (Loyola University Press, 1929). Reprinted with permission.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: