LOVE OF NEIGHBOR
THE precept, written in our hearts, as well as in the law, to love God,
commands us, at the same time, to love the neighbor. When you go to
confession, you are told to be sorry for your sins and to make a firm
purpose of amendment. These appear to be two different injunctions; yet
in fact and reality, they are one and the same thing, for it is
impossible to abhor and detest sin, having at the same moment the
intention of committing it. One therefore includes the other; one is
not sincere and true without the other; therefore one cannot be without
the other. So it is with love of God and of the neighbor; these two
parts of one precept are coupled together because they complete each
other, and they amount practically to the same thing.
The neighbor we are to love is not alone those for whom we naturally
have affection, such as parents, friends, benefactors, etc., whom it is
easy to love. But our neighbor is all mankind, those far and those
near, those who have blessed us and those who have wronged us, the
enemy as well as the friend; all who have within them, as we have, the
image and likeness of God. No human being can we put outside the pale
of neighborly love.
As for the love we bear others, it is of course one in substance, but
it may be different in degree and various in quality. It may be more or
less tender, intense, emphatic. Some we love more, others, less; yet
for all that, we love them. It is impossible for us to have towards any
other being the same feelings we entertain for a parent. The love a
good Christian bears towards a stranger is not the love he bears
towards a good friend. The love therefore that charity demands admits a
variety of shades without losing its character of love.
When it comes to loving certain ones of our neighbors, the idea is not
of the most welcome. What! Must I love, really love, that low rascal,
that cantankerous fellow, that repugnant, repulsive being? Or this
other who has wronged me so maliciously? Or that proud, overbearing
creature who looks down on me and despises me?
We have said that love has its degrees, its ebb and flow tide, and
still remains love. The low water mark is this: that we refuse not to
pray for such neighbors, that we speak not ill of them, that we refuse
not to salute them, or to do them a good turn, or to return a favor. A
breach in one of these common civilities, due to every man from his
fellow-man, may constitute a degree of hatred directly opposed to the
charity strictly required of us.
It is not however necessary to go on doing these things all during life
and at all moments of life. These duties are exterior, and are required
as often as a contrary bearing would betoken a lack of charity in the
heart. Just as we are not called upon to embrace and hug an uninviting
person as a neighbor, neither are we obliged to continue our civilities
when we find that they are offensive and calculated to cause trouble.
But naturally there must be charity in the heart.
We should not confound uncharity with a sort of natural repugnance and
antipathy, instinctive to some natures, betraying a weakness of
character, if you will, but hardly what one could call a clearly
defined fault. There are people who can forgive more easily than forget
and who succeed only after a long while in overcoming strong feelings.
In consequence of this state of mind, and in order to maintain peace
and concord, they prefer the absence to the presence of the objects of
their antipathy. Of course, to nourish this feeling is sinful to a
degree; but while striving against it, to remove prudently all
occasions of opening afresh the wound, if we act honestly, this does
not seem to have any uncharitable malice.
Now all this is not charity unless the idea of God enter therein. There
is no charity outside the idea of God. Philanthropy, humanity is one
thing, charity is another. The one is sentiment, the other is love--two
very different things. The one supposes natural motives, the other,
supernatural. Philanthropy looks at the exterior form and discovers a
likeness to self. Charity looks at the soul and therein discovers an
image of God, by which we are not only common children of Adam, but
also children of God and sharers of a common celestial inheritance.
Neither a cup of water nor a fortune given in any other name than that
of God is charity.
There are certain positive works of charity, such as almsgiving and
brotherly correction, etc., that may be obligatory upon us to a degree
of Serious responsibility. We must use prudence and intelligence in
discerning these obligations, but once they clearly stand forth they
are as binding on us as obligations of justice. We are our brothers'
keepers, especially of those whom misfortune oppresses and whose lot is
cast under a less lucky star.
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