By Francis Fernandez-Carvajal
3/27.1 The essence of charity.
The Second Reading of the Mass reminds us of the so-called hymn of charity, one of the most beautiful of Saint Paul’s Letters. Through the Apostle, the Holy Spirit speaks to us today about a relationship between us and our fellow-men of a kind that is completely unknown in the pagan world since it has an entirely new foundation. This is love for Christ. As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me. With the help of grace, a Christian discovers God in his neighbour: he knows that we are all children of the same Father and brothers of Jesus Christ. The supernatural virtue of charity brings us closer to our neighbour in a very meaningful way; it is not mere humanitarianism. Our love is not to be confused with sentimentality or mere good fellowship, nor with that somewhat questionable zeal to help others in order to convince ourselves of our superiority. Rather, it means living in peace with our neighbour, venerating the image of God that is found in each and every man, and doing all we can to get all others in their turn to contemplate that image, so that they too may learn how to turn to Christ.
Our Lord gave a new and incomparably deeper meaning to love for our neighbour. He established it as the New Commandment and as the sign by which Christians will be known. Divine love, as I have loved you, is the measure of the love we must have for other people; it is, therefore, a supernatural love which God himself places in our hearts. At the same time it is a deeply human love, which is enriched and strengthened by grace.
Charity is not the same as natural sociability, the consciousness of that fraternity that comes from ties of blood, or a feeling of compassion for the victims of misfortune ... Nevertheless, the theological virtue of charity does not exclude legitimate earthly loves; rather does it raise and supernaturalise them. It purifies them and makes them deeper and more stable. The charity of a Christian usually finds itself expressed in virtues needed for living in harmony with others; in good manners and courtesy, for example, which are then elevated to a higher and definitive order.
Without charity life lacks its prime and essential ingredient ... The most sublime eloquence, and all the good works imaginable would be like the fading reverberation of a booming gong or the clash of cymbals which lasts scarcely a few moments and then fades away into nothing. Without charity, the Apostle says, even the most sought-after gifts are of little value. If I have not love, I am nothing. Many doctors and scribes knew more about God, much more, than the majority of those who accompanied Jesus, about whom it is said that they do not know the law, but all their knowledge was fruitless. They did not understand what was most important – the presence of the Messiah in their midst, and his message of understanding, of respect and of love.
Lack of charity dulls the intelligence so that it cannot know God and fails to understand the dignity of man. Love sharpens and focuses all our powers. Only charity – love of God and of our neighbour for God’s sake – prepares and disposes us to understand God and all that refers to him, so far as is possible for a finite creature. He who does not love does not know God, Saint
John teaches, for God is love. The virtue of hope also becomes sterile without charity, for it is impossible to attain what one does not love. All our works are in vain without charity, even the most skilfully or energetically executed ones and those that demand sacrifice. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. There is no substitute for charity.
Today, in our prayer, we could ask ourselves how we live this virtue each day. Do we perform little acts of service for the people around us? Do we try to be pleasant? Do we say we are sorry when we hurt people? Do we spread peace and joy around us? Do we help others on their way towards God, or are we, on the contrary, indifferent to them? Do we practise the works of mercy by visiting the poor and the sick, so as to live Christian solidarity with those who suffer? Do we care for the needs of the elderly and are we concerned about people who find themselves on the margin of society? In a word is our normal relationship with God shown in deeds of understanding and in service to the people who are in daily contact with us?
 1 Cor 12:31-13:13
 Matt 25:40
 St J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 230
 cf John 13:34
 John 7:49
 1 John 4:8
 St Augustine, Treatise on faith, hope and charity, 117
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rev. Francis Fernandez-Carvajal
Rev. Francis Fernández-Carvajal is a Priest of the Opus Dei Prelature and the author of many popular spiritual works. His seven-volume series In Conversation with God provides over 500 meditations to be used throughout the liturgical year. It has sold over 2 million copies and has been translated into many languages.
In Conversation With God