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Part 7: Charity

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By Chris Sparks (Mar 15, 2018)
The following is the last in a seven-part series on the cardinal and theological virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, temperance, faith, hope, and charity:

The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return.
— Eden Ahbez, "Nature Boy"

Every love song ever written takes on a whole new power and truth when reimagined as being between God and the soul, or Christ and His Church. All those promises of everlasting love, of unending fidelity, of perfect and pure beauty being preserved spotlessly throughout the ages by the force and fire of a love beyond the power of time — all of this is impossible for merely human lovers.

Sure, we mean it when we sing it, when we stare into the eyes of our beloved, when we are captured by romance.

But we know, or we discover, that it's not possible for this-worldly love, for mere romantic love, to truly, ultimately be more powerful than time, and old age, and death.

For divine charity, or divine love, though — for God — it's a realistic statement of fact. This is how Love works — the Love that holds all creation in existence from moment to moment, that says that it is good that you exist and so sustains you in existence.

This is how God works.

Immortal, everlasting, all-encompassing, totally self-giving love holds the beloved in immortality, in life beyond time, beyond death. Love conquers all, when that Love is God who is Love, Deus caritas est.

But that Love isn't merely erotic, romantic love, although romantic love is the great icon of divine Love given in Scripture in the marriage of Adam and Eve in Genesis; in the marriage of the Bride and Bridegroom, the Lamb, in the Book of Revelation; and in the Song of Songs, considered the holiest of books of Scripture according to the Jewish tradition.

Divine Love is agape love, absolutely generous, absolutely self-giving charity or love between the divine Persons. Eternally, God the Father loves the Son into being in absolutely generous act of self-giving, and the Son loves the Father back in an absolute gift of self, and the Holy Spirit is that Gift-Love between Father and Son.

Father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, the great Dominican theologian who had among his students Karol Wojtyla (the future St. John Paul II, author of one of the greatest reflections on love ever crafted in his theology of the body), says in his immense work on the spiritual life that what's needed, first and foremost, is generosity.

If you are generous with God, you pass swiftly and easily along the paths of the spiritual life.

That's it. That's the secret.

And generosity with God is fueled by caritas, by charity, by love — or not at all.

"Love and do what you will," says St. Augustine, in a sermon on the First Epistle of John 4:4-12.

Indeed, love is the source and summit of the spiritual life, the meaning of life, the universe, and everything. All is created by love, to create the milieu for God to love persons into existence, and for persons to love God back. Love generates new life, and new life generates more love. The entire universe is constructed to facilitate the giving and receiving of love, of self, of generous self-donation and receiving of the gift of others.

"The meaning of life is found in giving and receiving love," says St. John Paul II in Evangelium Vitae (The Gospel of Life) (81).

But we fell, and the angels fell, and the universe was wounded. Still designed to facilitate absolute self-gift, it now can drain people to the last drop without allowing the gifts of others to reach them, to replenish life and love in the soul, leaving some people broken and burned out by life in a fallen world.

Jesus Christ came, Merciful Love Incarnate, to bridge the gap, to repair the transmission line, to restore power to the love and self-gift of His creatures. Our love can once again reach the heart of the Trinity through our participation in the Eucharist, and the love flowing from the Heart of God can be poured into our hearts. Our sacrifices are made infinitely efficacious by our immersion in the waters of life, of Baptism, and by our participation in Holy Communion with God Almighty. By trust in Jesus, we may receive the full force and fire of His merciful love, as He told St. Faustina again and again throughout her private revelations. For example:

Be always merciful as I am merciful. Love everyone out of love for Me, even your greatest enemies, so that My mercy may be fully reflected in your heart (Diary of Saint Maria Faustina Kowalska, 1695).

If any single commandment characterizes Christianity, it's the commandment to love. We are ordered to love God and neighbor, even our enemies, in a life of generosity to other persons and eager receptivity to their love.

Now true love wills the good for the other; true love is obedient to the laws of God, desiring the good of the other according to the nature of the person or thing being loved. The theological virtue of love is built upon the backs of all the other virtues, of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, of faith and hope. In order to love rightly, to love well, to know the good of the other and pursue it in a stable, rightly ordered way, we need all the other virtues, or else we are prone to following fits of passion, to pursuing what feels good rather than what is good. True love isn't merely a feeling, but a choice, repeated often enough to become a habit and eventually a virtue, a stable disposition of all the powers of the soul.

Love can be hard.

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things (1 Cor 13:4-7).

That will inevitably entail suffering, but then, what life does not? Indeed, living in love doesn't mean suffering where there would be none, but rather meaning where there would otherwise be dark mystery, and powerful grace where otherwise there would be mere misery. There need never be meaningless suffering again, if only we unite our sufferings to the sufferings of Christ, open our hearts to Divine Love, and join the Communion of Saints, giving and receiving ourselves, sharing our life and our love with God and neighbor.

And when all things pass away, when there's a new heavens and a new earth, then there will be infallible, perfect transmission and reception of all self-gift. There will be perfect loving and being loved in return. There will be the Bridegroom and His Bride, and God who is Love shall be all in all.

So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

So how do we live this virtue of love? The single greatest way is to love God like the greatest of all creatures: Mary Immaculate. And to love God, we must love what He loves, and so we should entrust ourselves to the Blessed Virgin Mary as He did. We should embrace total consecration to Jesus, the Divine Mercy, through Mary Immaculate, and ponder the mysteries of the Incarnation as she does, especially through devotions such as the Rosary and the Stations of the Cross, especially at the 3 o'clock Hour of Great Mercy. We should take up the Divine Mercy Chaplet and love our neighbors by praying it for them, offering love to God and to neighbor by trusting in Divine Mercy and beseeching it on behalf of those most in need.

And most of all, most especially and powerfully of all, we should refuse to let our hearts be hardened by the pains and sufferings of life. We should ask God for the fire of His Holy Spirit to melt any hardness in our hearts, allowing us to love with His own eternal flame, and so be moved by grace to imitate Divine Love and His Spouse, the Blessed Virgin Mary, hurrying to perform the works of mercy, impelled and sustained by love in a life of radical generosity with God and neighbor, so that in this time of mercy, many — all! — may be saved.

View other parts of the 7 Virtues series.

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