BEFORE THE CROSS | Charity: Way by which we love God and our neighbor

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

Lisa Johnston | lisajohnston@archstl.org

"Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1822).

When the topic is the theological virtue of love (charity), we might think of how we give love to others. That's a good thing; but I want to draw our attention to the paradoxical truth that the most fruitful human activity is to receive the love of God.

How could that possibly be the case?

Well, consider this: What's the most important thing one human person ever did to bring love into the world? The answer: She received the love of God.

The Blessed Virgin Mary said "Yes" to the proposal of the Father, conceived Love Incarnate and brought Him forth for the salvation of the world. We can't do better than that.

A great modern example of this proper order of receiving and giving love is Blessed Teresa of Calcutta. She spent an hour every day praying before Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, and all of Missionaries of Charity do the same. Why do they pray for an hour, when they have so many pressing demands on their time and energy? Mother Teresa explained: "Because we find that through our daily holy hour our love for Jesus becomes more intimate, our love for each other more understanding and our love for the poor more com­passionate."

Mother Teresa prayed every day in front of what appears to be merely a small piece of bread, but with eyes of faith, she saw the Body of Christ. And because she saw with eyes of faith, she adored.

Then, after prayer, she devoted herself to serving people who appeared to be merely shabby beggars and outcasts. But like seeing the Body of Christ hidden in an ordinary piece of bread, she saw the face of Christ hidden in the poorest of the poor. Because she saw with eyes of faith, she loved. Because she loved, she served. And when she served, people knew the love of Christ through her.

We have to receive love in order to give love. But that doesn't make it easy. Receiving also takes effort. Moment by moment, day by day, week by week, month by month we're called to give our hearts and lives to Jesus -- the God who is Love Incarnate.

If we do so, with gradually building momentum, all that we say and do will be­come an invitation for others to share in Christ's love. As our love for Jesus becomes more intimate, our love for others will become more understanding; as our love for others becomes more understanding, our love for the poor will become more compassion­ate; as our love for the poor becomes more compassionate, people will taste the love of Christ through us.

Jesus will be born again through each of us. That's the most powerful thing we can do to give love to others.

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