WEDNESDAY WITHIN THE OCTAVE OF THE ASCENSION
ON THE DIFFERENT BRANCHES OF FRATERNAL CHARITY
Consider first, that charity is fruitful in its offspring, and spreads itself into different branches, in order to make the whole man perfect, by regulating both his judgment and his will, and directing him in his thoughts, in his words, and in his actions. For there is a charity that corrects the natural bent of our corruption, which is ever tending to suspect and judge the worst of our neighbours, and to be harsh and censorious in their regard. And there is a charity that inclines the will in their favour, so as to wish them well in every respect, and to forgive all injuries. There is a charity that employs the thoughts, in studying to promote their good, and to prevent and remedy their evil. And there is a charity that directs the tongue, and restrains it from uttering any words to the prejudice of any one. In fine, there is a charity that seasons and sweetens the whole body of our actions, as far as they relate to our neighbours, and squares them all according to that golden rule of doing in everything as we would be done by. The practice of all these branches of charity in God, and for God, makes a perfect Christian, and brings us to God.
Consider 2ndly, that amongst the branches of fraternal charity, there is one that our Lord seems to take in a special manner to heart; insomuch that he has declared our eternal lot shall be decided by our diligence or negligence in the exercise of it, Matt. xxv., and this is charity to the poor. These he declares he has substituted in his own stead, and what we do for them he takes as done for himself ver. 43, 45. This branch of charity duly exercised, in proportion to every man’s circumstances, will bring thousands one day into the happy tabernacles of everlasting life. But where shall the unjust stewards then appear, who, having the substance of their master, viz., their worldly riches, intrusted in their hands, with express orders to employ their superfluities at least in relieving the necessity of his poor children, either covetously detain or prodigally squander away that which should be their support, and to which they have an indisputable title! Alas! What a figure will their extravagant expenses then make! What account will they be able to give of all that they have sacrificed to pride and vanity, to luxury and intemperance, to gaming and criminal diversions! Will not all these robberies of the substance of the poor cry to heaven against them for vengeance on that day.
Consider 3rdly, that there is still another branch of charity, the most difficult of all, and yet absolutely necessary to salvation, and that is, to love our enemies. ‘I say to you,’ saith our Lord, Matt. v. 44, ‘love your enemies, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you.’ And this he insists upon in such manner as to exclude from his mercy here, and from his kingdom hereafter, all such as exclude any one, how much an enemy soever, from their charity. But how shall we acquire, or how shall we practise this charity for our enemies? O! it is not a virtue of our own growth, it must come down to us from heaven, from our great Father, ‘Who maketh his sun to rise upon the good and bad, and raineth upon the just and the unjust.’ It is by fervent prayer we must obtain it, and when we have got it, must lay it up in our hearts as a rich heavenly treasure, and exercise it as the saints have done, by praying for our enemies in sincerity of heart, and seeking, on all occasions, to overcome in their regard evil with good. O how happy shall we be, if by any such means as these we prevail to bring them, that before were our enemies, to be for the time to come friends both to God and to us! It is what the saints have often done by their charity, by their meekness, and by their prayers.
Conclude to labour with all thy power, both to acquire and to exercise all these branches of charity, if thou desirest to come to God, who is charity, and who is not to be come at but by charity.