Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Fourth (Lætáre) Sunday of Lent—22 March AD 2009
On Charitycaritasαγάπη

Giovanni Lanfranco (1582-1647)—The Multiplication of Loaves and Fishes—c.1620

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English
Lenten Observance

    The rose colored vestments for Lætáre Sunday tell us that Lent is roughly half over.  We are urged to rejoice today, but to rededicate ourselves to the observance of Lent on the morrow.


    We’ve been talking about the theological virtues for the past two weeks.  Faith, Hope, and Charity.  I mentioned that these virtues are called “theological” because through them we move into closer and closer union with God, and eventually become suitable to dwell in His presence forever in eternity.  Like any of the virtues, they give us a certain power, or inclination towards the good—with the theological virtues, the good is God Himself.

    The third of these virtues is called “charity”—but (for the moment) we must distinguish it from the modern use of that word.  Only a few weeks ago we read the words of Saint Paul:  “And if I distribute all my goods to feed  the poor,  and if  I deliver my body to be burned, yet do not have charity,  it profits  me nothing.”[1]  In modern English, charity means giving to the poor and otherwise seeing to it that their needs are met.  In this modern use, one’s motives may be very altruistic, perhaps even motivated by the love of God and our Lord’s admonition that we care for the needy as we would care for Him[2]—but on the other hand, modern charity for the poor might come from base motives like seeking power through bureaucracy, or concern for one’s property values.

    When we use the word “Charity” as the name of the theological virtue, we are speaking of the pure and disinterested love of God.  Like Faith and Hope, Charity is an infused virtue—one that we receive at Baptism, and one that can be nourished through the various sources of sanctifying grace.  It is a work of God in our souls.  It is a virtue of the will rather than of the intellect;  it is not an emotional thing that grows by being stirred up by hand waving, back slapping, the away of the crowd or any other such thing.  If we can do anything on our own to increase Charity it can only be through purification of the will—that is to say that we can put aside all of the conflicting desires which might keep us from desiring God.  That is one of the reasons for making a good Lent—to learn on a first hand basis that we can do without many of the distractions of the world—or at least that we can do with less of them.

    All three of the theological virtues can be said to be “interactive.”  That is to say that one without the other two is difficult or impossible to imagine.  Faith, or Belief in what God has revealed, would be rather meaningless without the Love of God and the Hope of happiness with Him.  Charity, or Love of God, would be equally meaningless without at least some Belief in God, and would be the worst imaginable frustration if there was no Hope of happiness with Him.

    Saint Paul tells us that “Charity never fails, whereas  prophecies will  disappear, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will be destroyed.”[3]  He doesn’t say so directly, but a moment of reflection will tell us that Charity is the only one of the three virtues that will remain unchanged in eternity.  Faith will not be destroyed, but it will certainly be changed as we come to know God face to face, rather than by knowing Him by His descriptions of Himself.  Hope may not be destroyed, but once we come to enjoy the Beatific Vision of God, it will be more accurate to speak of “Fulfillment” than of “Hope.”

    Now, occasionally, you will hear someone say that God is too great or too distant or too hidden for a mere human being to love.  I would suggest that there are three remedies for anyone who has difficulty in loving God.

    First, remember that Charity is not an emotional thing.  If we seek an emotional attachment such as we might have with a husband or a wife, we are seeking the wrong thing and will never find it.

    Second, do try to purify the will of other attachments which may compete with the love of God.  That does not mean that everyone must live the life of a monk or a nun, shut up in a monastery, doing perpetual penance—although there may be room for some of this in everyone’s life, at least part of the time.  But, what it does mean is an ordering of priorities.  The legitimate pleasures of the world are just that—they are legitimate, they are good when used with appropriate moderation.  But they are more immediate in drawing our attention than God is;  we must not let them crowd God out of our lives.  There is such a thing as too much entertainment, too much celebration, and too much pampering of ourselves with attractive clothing and accessories.  There are only so  many hours in the day, and often these excesses simply squeeze God out of that day.  There has to be time for prayer, spiritual reading, and meditation—one ought not be a complete stranger to Mass during the week, to frequent Communion, or to a few moments in the confessional now and then.  It is very difficult to love someone whom you do not know—if you want to love God as you should, make use of these means to know Him, and to have Him refresh that love with His sanctifying grace.

    Pay particular attention to the things that are read at Mass.  Have a missal to read them at home on the days when you cannot attend in person.  For example, look at today’s Epistle and Gospel.

    In the Epistle, Saint Paul tells us of the freedom that Christ has won for us at great price.  And as he tells us elsewhere in the very same chapter of his Epistle to the Galatians,  “God sent his Son, made of a woman ... that we might receive the adoption of sons” and daughters of God.[4]  God has made us not servants, but has made us welcome members of His own household.

    In the Gospel we read of the Son of God curing the sick and then, moved by compassion, feeding an immense number of people from but a few loaves and fishes.  Later on in the same chapter of Saint John’s Gospel, He promised to give them not ordinary bread and fish, but to give them His very own body and blood:  “If any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, for the life of the world.”[5]

    Virtually every time you read the texts, from virtually any Mass throughout the year, you will read about God’s love for you.

    Finally, do consider and act upon that connection that our language suggests between Charity as the love of God, and charity as the love of neighbor.  No matter how un-loveable our neighbor may seem, we must not lose sight of the fact that God loves him, and has directed us to love our neighbor as though he were the Son of God.  “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.... As long as you did [these things for] one of these my least brethren, you did [them for] Me.”[6]

    If you say that you have difficulty in loving God because he is far away, you need only look around to find any number of people to love for the sake of loving God.

    “Charity  is patient, is kind; charity does  not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not self-seeking, is not provoked;  thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.  Charity never fails, whereas prophecies will disappear, and tongues will cease, and knowledge will be destroyed....  So there abide faith, hope, and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”


[1]   Quinquagesima Sunday Epistle  1 Corinthians xiii: 1-13. 

[2]   Cf. Matthew xxv.

[3]   1 Corinthians, ibid.


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