Brotherly Charity

FunFellowship&Faith-201301

“If I were to speak in the language of men, or that of Angels, yet not have charity, I would be like a clanging bell or a crashing cymbal… And if I distribute all my goods in order to feed the poor, and if I hand over my body to be burned, yet not have charity, it profits me nothing.”] With these words, St. Paul underscores the primacy of charity over all other virtues.

No Man is an Island

It seems that the circumstances in which the world finds itself, characterized by individualism and selfishness or indifference before others, has made man’s longing for encounter all the more poignant. From the very beginning, the human being, created to relate harmoniously with those like him, discovers that solitude is an unacceptable evil, and a real obstacle to his own fulfillment. As Scripture itself tells us: “It is not good for man to be alone.”[2]

The longing for communion thus forms part of the vital experience of every human person that opens himself to his own interiority. In the most profound depths of man’s heart, there beats a paradox that questions us. On the one hand, we experience a longing for authentic and permanent relationships and aspire to live in loving relationships with others. On the other hand, we are confronted by own failings, our selfishness towards others, our egoism, as well as fears that distance us from others. We stumble not only over our current limitations, but also even over our past frustrations, which often cast a shadow of hopelessness over the path we must take to reach communion.

A New Commandment

In the Gospel according St. John, we read of those intimate moments at the Last Supper which set the background for the new commandment that the Lord would establish: “I give you a new commandment: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, so also must you love one another.”[3] It is a beautiful yet challenging commandment, for it calls us to love much as the Lord Jesus.

The characteristics of His love shine before our eyes with undeniable features. During the Last Supper it is made explicit that His is an extreme love, one willing to hand over its own life.[4] It is a love that is expressed through service as the Lord teaches while washing the feet of his disciples.[5] It is a love that is born from the fruitful workings of the Holy Spirit[6], and for that reason, is supernatural. Only by comprehending that the love the Lord calls us to finds its source in the supernatural and that it is the Lord himself who loves in us through the Holy Spirit can we discover that His call is not out of our reach.

The Path of Amorization[7]

Living the love of neighbor is truly an ascetic path. Yet by it we learn to live love as the Master did, thus making us participants of the intimate life of the Trinity itself. There is no denying that the obstacles are many – of which we’ve only mentioned a few –, but it is precisely in living charity toward our brothers and sisters that these obstacles are chipped away and purified. As such, they form part of a highly precious preparation for our encounter with God and our conformation with the Son of Mary.

Taking the step of committing to others in fraternal love increasingly likens our existences to that of the Lord of Nazareth – the paradigm of life to its fullest, who loved us unto the Cross, and invites us to follow Him along this sure path. What the beloved disciple wrote in one of his letters is illuminating: “For he who does not love his brother, whom he does see, in what way can he love God, whom he does not see?”[8] Fraternal charity offers an especially privileged view of that love of which we are personally invited to participate: that of the Blessed Trinity, God’s love.

Along this path of conformation with Christ, Mary leads the way. She, with tender firmness, invokes the power of the Spirit to help mold the hearts of her children until they fully resemble the heart of the Lord Jesus. Mary is a wonderful example living fraternal charity for it was certainly a familiar path for her. In addition, her maternal presence in our midst creates a close, familial and fraternal environment that inspires mutual self-giving.

Living Fraternal Charity

“Behold how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity… It is like the dew of Hermon, which descends upon mount Zion. For there the Lord has commanded blessing, and life, even unto eternity.”[9] So sings the exulting psalmist as he recognizes the love for our brothers and sisters as a priceless gift. This fraternal charity has multiple expressions of which we will only examine a few characteristics that can help us understand that it is a dynamism that conforms us to the Lord Jesus.

Above all, this fraternal charity manifests itself in service. The Lord himself reveals this dimension of existence as an unmistakable sign of love made concrete.[10] Mary, too, contributes with her own example when, after having made effective her loving adherence to God’s Plan, she seeks out her cousin Elizabeth in order to provide for her needs.[11]

Another unmistakable expression of this charity is forgiveness. He who loves is capable of forgiving, and he who forgives prepares himself for love and opens himself to reconciliation. The Lord Jesus teaches us a forgiveness without limits because our forgiveness should aspire to be proportional to the mercy that God has towards us.[12] Even at the most extreme moment of his passion, the sweet Lord of Nazareth only has words of forgiveness and compassion for those who torture him: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”[13] The Cross, sign of God’s love for man, ought to always remind us that charity requires sacrifice. Charity teaches us to always be willing to suffer for one another and to forgive any sort of offence.

Solidarity is another expression of love toward our brothers. St. Paul exhorts us to live according to the greatness of the vocation to which we have been called, “with all humility and mildness, with patience, supporting one another in charity.”[14] Solidarity means taking the sorrows and joys of others as our own; it means taking them on with an open heart, generous like that of Jesus and his Mother.

We can’t overlook the importance of fraternal correction, a mandate born from our call to be our “brother’s keeper.” One who truly loves is not an accomplice to the errors and shortcomings of his neighbors. Rather, he ought to seek ways to bring them back to the right path, that which leads to true happiness. A correction should be firm and clear but it should also always be filled with charity, which is patient, service-oriented and without prejudice. This is the charity that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”[15]

At the Foot of the Cross

At Golgotha, Mary’s maternity becomes explicit, and through it, all men discover that we are all brothers that must be united in a deep filial piety. Moreover, the characteristics of her life, ones of solidarity, concern for others and generosity, within the culminating moment of pain-and-joy, constitute an exemplary path to follow.

Mary, at the foot of the Cross, maintains an expectant and alert attitude, attentive to what her Son may tell her. Let us contemplate Jesus, our brother, crucified, and attempt to listen, in silence, to the eloquence of his love for us.

The cruciform dimension of charity also calls our attention. The vertical beam extending towards the heavens reminds us of the love between God and humanity. The horizontal beam, sustained by the vertical, is a symbol of the fraternal love between men. The two arms outstretched to the world seem to want to embrace all of humanity in a magnanimous and eternal love and that has no fear of showing itself as weak and vulnerable. His simple nakedness neither hides nor keeps anything for himself but reveals the truth to others. Finally, the wood of the Cross, soaring over Calvary, rises as a prelude to the triumph of the Resurrection. It is a palpable sign of the dynamic of pain-and-joy and of the transition from death to life that is captured by the living of charity.

 

For Meditation

Called to Live Fraternal Love: Ps 133(132):1,3; Jn 13:34ff; 17:21; 1Jn 3:14-16.

Love for God is Made Concrete in Love for Neighbor: 1Jn 3:17-18; 4:20.

The Demands of Fraternal Love: Jn 13:12-15; 15:13-15; Rm 12:9-13; 2Cor 12:15; 1Pt 3:8-9.

Charity is What is Essential: 1Cor 13:1-13.

 

 

[1] 1Cor 13:1,3.

[2] Gn 2:18.

[3] Jn 13:34.

[4] See Jn 13:1; 15:13.

[5] See Jn 13:4ff.

[6] See Rm 5:5; Gal 5:22.

[7] T.N. From the Spanish “amorización” meaning “to-become-love-itself.”

[8] 1Jn 4:20.

[9] Ps 133:1,3.

[10] See Jn 13:4-14.

[11] See Lk 1:39ff.

[12] See Mt 18:21-22.

[13] Lk 23:34.

[14] Eph 4:2.

[15] 1Cor 13:7; see 1Cor 13:4-7.

 

Notice: This article has been translated from Spanish. The author has not looked over the translation.

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