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V. THE COMMANDMENT OF CHARITY TOWARDS OUR NEIGHBOR
Every human being is our neighbor, without distinction of religion, of race, of age, of sex, or of occupation.
In the parable of the Good Samaritan Christ teaches us that those who are strangers to us and even our enemies, are to be regarded as our neighbor. In the present day some people are so foolish as to consider none but their fellow-countrymen as their neighbors. In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek, but all are one (Gal. iii. 28).
1. We ought to love our neighbor because this is Christ’s command; furthermore because he is a child of God, made after His image, and also because we are all descended from the same parents and we are all called to attain eternal felicity.
Christ’s precept is this: “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thy self” (Mark xii. 31). He who loves the father will assuredly love his children (1 John v. 1). Now God is our common father, for He created us (Matt. ii. 10), we are all His children, and for that reason we ought to love one another. Those who are the offspring of one and the same parent are blood-relations; consequently since we all received our being from the self-same God, we stand in the relation of brethren one to another, and on this account ought to love one another. A man who loves his father shows respect for his portrait. Now, our fellow-man is an image of God; he was made to His image (Gen. i. 27); consequently we ought to love him. As the moon derives its light from the sun, so the love of our neighbor flows from the love of God. We are, moreover, all children of Adam, and thus members of one great family, and should love one another as such. Finally, we are called to the attainment of everlasting felicity; we shall all live together, we shall behold the face of God and sing His praises together. St. John says in the Apocalypse: “I saw a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and in sight of the Lamb” (Apoc. vii. 9). Now we find that on earth persons who follow the same calling, such as priests, teachers, etc., always hold together. So we, who share the same vocation to heaven with our fellow-men, ought to be united to them in the bond of charity.
2. The love of our neighbor shows itself in desiring the good of our neighbor from our heart; in abstaining from injuring him, and in doing him good.
The love of our neighbor does not consist merely in affectionate sentiments, in benevolent wishes; these would profit him little. St. James says: “If a brother or sister be naked, and want daily food; and one of you say to them: Go in peace, be ye warmed and filled, yet give them not these things that are necessary for the body, what shall it profit?” (Jas. ii. 15, 16). The love of our neighbor must be practical, it must display itself in doing good. “Let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John iii. 18).
The desire for our neighbor’s good consists in this, that we rejoice with him in his prosperity, and grieve with him when he is in adversity.
St. Paul exhorts us to “rejoice with them that rejoice, and weep with them that weep” (Rom. xii. 15). Consider how Elizabeth rejoiced on hearing that Mary was the Mother of God (Luke i. 42); how the friends of Zacharias congratulated him when they witnessed the recovery of his speech at the birth of the Baptist (Luke i. 64). Consider how desirous Abraham was to have no strife between himself and Lot, how willingly he gave up to him the best tract of country. Consider how Moses desired the good of the Hebrews: “O that all the people might prophesy, and that the Lord would give them His spirit!” (Numb. xi. 29.) The congratulations exchanged on birthdays, festivals, and other occasions, the greetings usual in society are signs of good will. The Redeemer greeted His apostles with the words: “Peace be with you;” the archangel Gabriel saluted Mary. In some Catholic countries the custom still lingers of using the words: “Praised be Jesus Christ” as a greeting. Banish mutual good will and you take the sun out of the heavens; you make social intercourse impossible (St. Gregory the Great). “See,” says St. Augustine, “how the different members of the body participate in ,each other’s misfortune. If a thorn runs into the foot the eyes look for it, the tongue asks about it, the back bends towards it, the hand endeavors to extract it. We should conduct ourselves in like manner towards our neighbor.” It is wrong, then, to rejoice when calami ties befall our neighbor and to grieve over his good fortune. Malice and envy are the sentiments of the devil and the surest sign that a man is lacking in love for his neighbor.
We ought not to injure our neighbor; either as regards his life, his innocence, his property, his honor, or his household.
All this God has forbidden in the six last commandments of the Decalogue. He who violates one of them to any serious extent, shows himself to have no love of his neighbor.
We ought to do good to our neighbor, especially when he is in need.
Christ, our future Judge, requires from us works of mercy, for He makes our eternal salvation depend on having performed them (Matt. xxv. 35). In a building one stone supports another, otherwise the structure would fall to pieces; so in the spiritual building, the Church, one member must help and sustain another. Charity is a chain that links us to our neighbor, and makes us treat him with kindness.
3. We are commanded to love our neighbor as ourselves, but we are by no means obliged to love him better than ourselves.
Our Lord says: “Whatsoever you would that men should do to you, do you also to them” (Matt. vii. 12). Holy Tobias says: “See that thou never do to another what thou wouldst hate to have done to thee” (Tob. iv. 16). Put yourself in your neighbor’s place and you will certainly treat him differently. Charity to one’s neighbor has its limits, however. No one is bound to deprive himself of what is necessary, to relieve his neighbor’s wants. In such cases to render assistance is heroic charity. “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friend” (John xv. 13). This Our Saviour did; and hundreds of missioners continually expose themselves to the risk of death to save souls. All the saints have incurred personal dangers for the sake of aiding others.
4. All that we do to our neighbor, whether it be good or evil, we do to Christ Himself; for He has said: “What you did to one of these My least brethren, ye did it to Me” (Matt. xxv. 40).
To Saul, when he was on the way to Damascus, Our Lord said: “Why persecutes! thou Me?” (Acts ix. 4.) Yet we know that h was only the Christians that he was persecuting. When St. Martin had given half his cloak to a half-naked beggar at the gate of Amiens, Christ appeared to him in a dream wearing the half-cloak and accompanied by angels. “Martin,” He said, “clothed Me to-day with this cloak.” Thus God protects our neighbor; we cannot injure him without first injuring God.
5. Eternal happiness will be the unfailing reward of those who fulfil closely the precept of charity to their neighbor.
St. John the Evangelist exhorted the Christians continually with the words: “Little children, love one another.” When asked why he always said the same, he replied: “If you love one another, you fulfil the whole law.” St. Paul says the same (Rom. xiii. 8; Gal. v. 14). Our Lord promises eternal life to those who observe that portion of the Ten Commandments which has reference to one’s neighbor; to those in fact, who perform works of mercy (Matt. xix. 21). Why does He do this? Because a man who never injures his neighbor, or who gives alms, cannot possibly be a bad man. We do not find the vicious and irreligious, who do not believe in a future recompense, giving alms. He who performs acts of charity possesses other virtues besides that of liberality to the poor. Beneficence is never unaccompanied by other virtues; it cannot exist without them any more than the heart can exist without the other organs of the body. Hence St. John Chrysostom says almsgiving may be called the mainspring of virtue.
6. The love of one’s neighbor is the distinctive mark of the true Christian.
Our Lord says: “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John xiii. 35). Christ loved us while we were yet unworthy of His love; and if we love and do good to those from whom we have never received any benefit, our love is like that of Christ, and we are really His disciples, easily to be distinguished from the mass of mankind, who usually only love their friends and benefactors. Our Lord calls this a new commandment (John xiii. 34), because the precept of charity to one’s neighbor was not understood earlier in the sense He gives to it. Well indeed were it for the world if charity prevailed everywhere! No laws would be needed, no courts of justice, no punishments. Then no man would wrong his neighbor; the very name of murders, brawls, rebellion, robbery and the like, would be unknown. There would be no destitution, for every one would have the necessaries of life (St. John Chrysostom).
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VI. LACK OF CHARITY TO ONE’S NEIGHBOR
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