The virtue of charity has incredible power to open people to God, to bring light out of darkness and hope from despair. But it can cost everything! Still, it will give more than you can imagine.
“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). St. Paul described love eloquently— real love, not the Valentine’s Day sentiments, but true love—whose source is God himself:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:1-13)
As Jesus said, “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). We don’t love enough if we are afraid to defend Christ’s truths in the marketplace, heedless of the embarrassment or shame it may inflict on us. We don’t love if, at the first sign of conflict or lack of getting our own way, we “drop” the one we called friend or spouse. We don’t yet know how much we are loved and forgiven by God if we cannot forgive another.
I learned a tremendous lesson about love when I was three years old. I woke up in the middle of the night; it was dark and quiet, so I went where most children go—to my parents’ bedroom. It was empty! Frightened, I ran down the hallway of the apartment, through the dining room, to the door leading to the kitchen. There stood my mother and father with their backs to me. A man I knew was standing in the kitchen. Then I saw his wife looking fearfully at him; he had a knife in his hand. My father said, “Joe, put the knife down.” Looking between my father and mother’s bodies, I saw the man weeping, handing my father the knife. I saw my mother comforting his wife. No one knew I was there until things had calmed down. Joe and his wife were going through some very difficult times; he was an alcoholic trying to eke out a living in the post-Depression era. All that had produced a helplessness that drove him close to violence. But the couple got help and persevered.
Some years ago, when I was visiting my hometown, I read in the paper that this couple was celebrating their fiftieth wedding anniversary! In the midst of great turmoil, they loved one another and allowed that love to triumph. The marriage could have easily succumbed in those circumstances, but they chose not to allow it. Both of them together made it work. Love takes work—hard work. But if we are open to the grace of real love, we can many times triumph over the obstacles. Sometimes it is not possible, but often it is.
Excerpted from More of the Holy Spirit (The Word Among Us Press, 2013) by Sr. Ann Shields, SGL. Available at wau.org/books