CHARITY PUTS ON A 1057' LOOK
Through Prayer the Faith becomes a Living Reality
By FRANCES MEREDITH
" SEE how these Christians love one another." Have we any right to expect that this judgement. made on the first Christians by their pagan neighbours, will be passed on us by the nonCatholics with whom we come in contact ?
We have merely to consider the impassioned pleas in our Catholic papers that we should behave to coloured students, deprived children and the strangers within our cities with the degree of Christian charity displayed by non-Catholics to realise that our neighbours may find little in our conduct to suggest to them that we are on fire with the love of Christ.
Admitting freely that much heroic charity passes unnoticed because it is concerned with the spiritual rather than corporal works of mercy, that much material help is given, as given it should be, without advertisement, it remains true that too often our charity is defective.
The cause P
RIDING ourselves .that the works of mercy undertaken by the Welfare State have their origins in the Christian practise of charity, we may forget that the saints, who were their originators, displayed a warmth of love which is not always in evidence in our performance of them. It appears to he generally acknowledged that the lack of true charity is one of the greatest causes of the leakage and there can he little doubt that were such love in evidence amongst us today the conversion of our country would not long be delayed.
What is the cause of our failure in charity and how can we learn to love with the love of Christ ?
An answer to these questions may be found more readily if we compare the condition of primitive Christianity with our own.
The first Christian Church was composed of small groups of enthusiastic converts who were ready at any moment to face torture and death for the sake of their newly found Lord.
Many were slaves, men and women lacking all civic and individual rights, who had found in the Church their spiritual freedom.
Others were members of the governing classes, drawn by the overwhelming attraction of Christ to associate on equal terms with representatives of the most despised section of the community.
THE Apostles, their priests -11and leaders had all been in daily human contact with the Master with the exception of St. Paul who had learned the Heart of Christ in contemplation.
Whether they lived in Judea or in the pagan empire, Christians would have been very conscious of their isolated position as members of the Church and such isolation would have acted as a goad to charity. With
their fellow Christians alone could they have given free expression to their passionate devotion to Our Lord. United in love for Him, sharing in the Sacramental Feast, sharing the experience of constant danger, they were welded into the Mystical Body and bound together in fraternal charity. We may take comfort in the knowledge that fallen human nature sometimes asserted itself even in the eadiest slays of the Catholic Church.
Broad view OFFICIAL recognition and the growth of the Church brought to an end the first feryours of charity and Christians, no longer united by a common danger, would tend to separate once more into national and social groups.
Nevertheless charity remained an essential feature of the Church's life and was always to be found as a consuming fire in the hearts of the saints.
So it is that throughout the Church's history we see a constant dychommy at work; the tendency to separation with all its want of charity on the one band, the knowledge of unity in the Mystical Body with all its ardent charity on the other. Taking a broad view we could say that, while at no time was charity entirely lacking from the practice of the general run of Catholics, it was the saints and the mystics alone who saw in their fellows the Person of the Crucified Christ.
Fraternal charity, at no time easy for the practise of fallen man, may be more difficult for es than it was for many Catholics in the past.
The change in the structure of Society that began at the. Reformation and is reaching its apotheosis to-day, .and the even greater change in the intellectual concepts of living, have resulted in emotional and factual isolation which is not readily dispelled. A great number of deracinated individuals is to be found in all our cities who discover no release from their. isolation by assisting at Mass as isolated members of a congregation of isolates.
yiVEN our families tend to u become isolated units, affiliated more closely to their fellow employees or to the members of their golf clubs or dance halls than to their fellow Catholics.
Members of the flourishing clubs and sodalities to be found in every well run parish can scarcely be
blamed for any failure to absorb the isolated members of their congregatioes. Regarding their group as a projection of themselves they feel ill at ease with those who arc strangers to the environment in which they were reared. Isolated from one another we tend to be only too well integrated into the intellectual climate of our non-Catholic neighbours. Nurtured in a tradition that is influenced by centuries of alien thought we lack awareness of the richness and diversity of our intellectual heritage. Holding fast to the Faith, loyal to Catholic truth as we see it, our daily lives may yet remain untouched to any great extent by the spirit that should inform their every detail. We tend, like our non-Christian friends to look for happiness in material well being and the satisfaction of earthly affections alone, we too are ready to consider a large family as a misfortune and a disgrace, we too, suffering to some extent from the spiritual myopia of our contemporaries, tend to consider the missionary-minded Catholic as a mad zealot in need of psychiatric assistance.
Not our lob
yiAGER to make the most of Iv this life and lacking any any vitalising grasp of the belief we profess in the rewards and punishments of eternity, we find it easy to look upon the practise of charity as the province of the Religious Orders or the State.
The official almoners of Catholic charity, controlled as they must be in great measure by government departments, may find difficulty in retaining unimpaired the true spirit of charity while keeping their minds open to all that is good in the professional methods which they are forced to learn. It might be said that from the division brought about by the Reformation there has sprung a division in charity. Catholics, retaining belief in God and in the whole body of Christian teaching, have tended to express their belief by the formal fulfilment of their duty to worship God and adore Him; non-Catholics, losing faith in one tenet after another of Christian doctrine, losing in many cases, any recognisable belief in God, any understanding of His right to he adored, have tended to place a greater emphasis on the duty of charity to their fellows.
Believing, as they do, that love is a matter of emotion alone, they cannot be satisfied with an expression of love in which no feeling is displayed.
There are many signs to-day suggesting that the conception of the duty of charity to mankind will become tithing of the past arid thus the false division between the love of God and love of man will lead, eventually, to the loss of all charity except that which will always he practised by Catholics.
CharitN today 'To say that the Holy Spirit, I. dwelling in His Bride, the Catholic Church, is at work perpetually to renew and restore her life is to state a fact that is no less profound because it has become a truism.
If we would remedy our individual defects in charity we would do well to consider this action of
the Paraclete as it can be seen in the new Secular Institutes which are formed to meet the needs of the new age. No saint of the Middle Ages could have been more faithful to the life of charity than the members of the various Secular Societies which are , becoming a familiar feature of modem Catholic life. Living, sometimes in community, often in their own homes, these men and women seek to serve God as dedicated Religious, sharing the common life of office, school or factory workers, serving their neighbours as friends and comrades and existing, in some cases, in the most abject poverty. It is in such lives that we shall find inspiration, it is by their example that we shall be encouraged to renew our weakened charity. We know where we may. meet our Master, we know how daily contact with Him can be attained, we know where to find the strength by which our weakness may be possessed.
vOLLOWING the lead given by the members of the Secular Institutes we shall find that Christian charily is to be learned only through constant contact with the Heart of Jesus overflowing with love for all mankind.
It is in the depths of silent, interior prayer that we shall learn most readily that delicacy of charity that understands and pities the sorrows of the weak, that learns to love with the wisdom of reason and the warmth of Christian love, that throws down the barriers formed by self-love, not through deliberate effort but through the love of Christ that possessed the heart of the man who prays. It is in the depths of prayer that the creed we profess becomes to us a living reality. It is through interior prayer that we become aware of the overwhelming truth that is the Mystical Body of Christ's Church, a Unity transcending all the singularities that divide us. Touched by a flame of the love emanating from the Sacred Heart of Jesus, informed by the Holy Spirit of Wisdom, our hardness melted by the maternal touch of Mary. we, who form the unworthy cells of the Mystical Body of her Divine Son will learn anew the glory and the joy that is Christian charity.