The Sinner's Guide
Ven. Louis of Granada
With Imprimi Potest and Imprimatur
TAN BOOKS AND PUBLISHERS, INC.
Ch 41. Man's Duty to his Neighbor
Man's duty towards his neighbor is embraced in the practice of charity and mercy. Read Holy Scriptures and you will appreciate the importance of these virtues. The writings of the prophets, Apostles, and evangelists abound with counsels concerning them.
God teaches us in Isaias that one of the duties of justice is charity to our neighbor. Thus when the Jews exclaimed: "Why have we fasted, and thou hast not regarded; have we humbled our souls, and thou hast not taken notice?" God answers: "In the day of your fast your own will is found, and you exact of all your debtors. You fast for debates and strife, and strike with the fist wickedly. Is this such a fast as I have chosen? Is not this rather the fast that I have chosen – loose the bands of wickedness; undo the bundles that oppress; let them that are broken go free; and break asunder every burden. Deal thy bread to the hungry, and bring the needy and harborless into thy house. When thou shalt see one naked, cover him, and despise not thy own flesh. Then shalt thou call, and the Lord shall hear, and give thee rest continually, and fill thy soul with brightness." (Is. 58). The prophet continues to the end of the chapter to declare the blessings with which God will reward this charity to our neighbor.
Behold how highly the great Apostle extols the virtue of charity; how strongly he recommends it; how minutely he enumerates its advantages. He gives it the first place among the virtues, and tells us that it is the bond of perfection, the end of the commandments, and the fulfillment of the law, (Cf. 1 Cor. 13:13; Col. 3:14; I Tim. 1:5; Rom. 13:8; Gal, 5:14).
It would be difficult to say more in praise of charity. Certainly these words of the Apostle must suffice to make you love and practice this virtue, if you desire to be pleasing to God.
Charity was also a favorite virtue with the beloved disciple. He frequently mentions it in his epistles, with the highest praise and commendation. And not only in his writings but in his discourse did he display the same devotedness to this virtue. So frequently did he repeat to his disciples the touching words, "My little children, love one another," that at last, as St. Jerome tells us, they became somewhat weary of always hearing the same, and asked him: Good master, why do you always give us this one command? His answer, says St. Jerome, was worthy of John: "Because it is the command of the Lord; and if you do this alone it will suffice." (De Scriptoribus Eccles.). Without doubt, therefore, he who desires to please God must fulfill this great precept of charity, not only in word but also in deed, "He that hath the substance of this world," says St. John, "and shall see his brother in need, and shall shut up his bowels from him, how doth the charity of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth." (1 Jn. 3:17-18).
Among the works comprised in charity to our neighbor the following are the most important: advice, counsel, succor, forbearance, pardon, edification. These are so strongly linked with charity that the practice of them indicates the progress we have made in the practice of charity.
There are Christians who pretend to love their neighbor, but their charity goes no further than words. Others are willing to give advice, but no more substantial proof of their charity. Others will perform both these duties, but will not refrain from resenting an injury, or will refuse to bear with the infirmities of their neighbor, forgetting that the Apostle tells us: "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ." (Gal. 6:2).
Others, again, while not resenting an injury, continue to harbor it in their hearts and will not freely pardon it. Finally, many fulfill all these obligations, yet in their words or conduct they fail to give their neighbor that edification which is the most important duty of charity. Let us diligently examine our hearts and our actions, and learn how far we fulfill the precepts of this virtue.
It may be said that he who simply loves his neighbor possesses the first degree of charity; he who gives him good counsel possesses the second; he who assists him in poverty or distress possesses the third; he who patiently bears an injury possesses the fourth; he who freely pardons it, the fifth; and he who in addition to all these fulfills the duty of edification to his neighbor has attained the highest degree of charity.
The works of which we have just been treating are what are called positive acts of charity, which teach us what we ought to do for our neighbor. Besides these there are others, called negative duties, which indicate what we must avoid in our intercourse with our neighbor. Such are judging rashly, speaking evil, using abusive or insulting language, injuring his honor or reputation, and giving scandal by words or evil counsel. If you would fulfill the law of charity, avoid all these.
To reduce to practice what we have said, let your love for your neighbor be like that of a mother for her child. See with what devotion a good mother cares for her child; how prudently she counsels him in danger; how faithfully she assists him in his necessities; how ingenious she is in regard to his faults, sometimes patiently bearing them, at other. times justly punishing them, or again prudently ignoring them. How earnestly she rejoices in his prosperity; how deeply she grieves at his misfortune as if it were her own! How zealous she is for his honor and advancement; how fervently she prays for him; how cheerfully she denies herself to give to him; how utterly she forgets herself in her care of him! Your charity would be perfect did it resemble this. Though you may not attain this degree, you must nevertheless aspire to it, for the higher you aim the more noble will be your conduct.
You will doubtless urge that you cannot feel such affection for one who is a stranger to you. But you should not regard your neighbor as a stranger. Behold in him rather the image of God, the work of His Divine hands, and a living member of Christ. (Cf. Rom. 12:5). Hence St. Paul tells us that when we sin against our neighbor we sin against Christ. (Cf. 1 Cor. 8:12). Look on your neighbor, therefore, not as a man but as Christ Himself, or one of His living members; for though he is not so in body, he is truly so by participation in the spirit of Christ, and by the reward which is promised to us, for Christ assures us that He will consider as done to Himself all that we do to our neighbor.
Think of the affection which ties of blood establish between creatures, and blush to let nature influence you more powerfully than grace. You will doubtless urge that your relatives are descended with you from the same ancestor, and that the same blood flows in your veins. Remember, however, that there are closer and stronger bonds uniting us as brethren in Christ. In God we have one Father; in the Church one mother; and in Jesus Christ one Lord and Saviour. One faith springs from the same source which enlightens all Christians and distinguishes them from the rest of men.
The object of our hope is the same kingdom, where we shall have but one heart and one soul. Baptism has made us children of the same Father, brothers and heirs of the same inheritance. Our souls are nourished with the same Food, the adorable Body of our Lord Jesus Christ, who makes us one with Himself. Finally, we are united in a participation of the same Holy Spirit, who dwells in us by faith alone or by the union of faith and grace, communicating to us life and strength. Behold the union which exists between the members of the same body, however diverse their functions, because they are animated by one soul! How much greater should be the union between the faithful who are animated by the same Divine Spirit, the Holy Ghost Himself!But, above all, ever keep before your eyes the incomparable example of Our Saviour's love for us. Why did He love us with so much tenderness, devotion, and generosity, if not to encourage us by His example, and oblige us by His benefits faithfully to fulfill the precept which He has imposed upon us? "A new commandment I give unto you," were His parting words to His Apostles on the night before He suffered; "that you love one another, as I have loved you." (Jn. 13:34). Having treated this subject at greater length in a work on Prayer and Meditation, I would refer the reader to it for a more complete development of this virtue.