Cardinal Bacci on Charitable Works

Charitable Works

1. Christianity is the religion of love. This is not to say that charity is sufficient without justice, for there can be no real charity without justice. But justice cannot always bring us very far. There are many complex and tragic problems which justice alone is powerless to solve. Only Christian love can comfort the human heart and heal some of the deeper wounds of poor suffering humanity. There is a sense in which it is true to say that Christianity is charity. This is what Jesus meant when He said: “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 15:12) “God is love and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4:16) Anyone who is without charity is not really a Christian. Egoism is the absolute negation of Christianity. The egoist is deaf to human sorrows and loves only himself. A Christian should love God above all things and his neighbour as himself.

2. When Jesus was asked what was the first commandment, He replied: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole mind, and with thy whole strength. This is the first commandment. And the second is like it. Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is no other commandment greater than this.” (Mark 12:30-31) As St. Augustine says, the love of God and the love of our neighbour are two branches of the same tree, the tree of charity. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother,” St. John warns us, “he is a liar.” (1 John 4:20) We must prove our love for God by showing charity towards our neighbour. All men are our brothers in Jesus Christ, Who has redeemed us by His precious blood. Our Lord has said that He will regard as done for Himself anything which we do for the least of our brethren. (Mt. 25:40) Like the Saints, we should see Jesus Himself living in the poor and suffering. The Saints gave Him everything they had, not only their possessions, but also their toil and love. Think how much those missionaries do who leave everything in order to go to foreign lands and win souls for Christ. Think of the charitable work of the sisters and nurses in the hospitals, asylums and orphanages. What are we doing ?

3. As well as the corporal works, there are the spiritual works of mercy. Everyone is not obliged to undertake the former; they would be impossible, for instance, for the destitute. But everyone is obliged to undertake the latter. Sometimes a kind word is more valuable than money. There are many ways in which we can carry out the spiritual works of mercy. There is the well-timed and understanding advice we can give to others; the visit to a sick man who is alone in his sufferings; the friendly and encouraging visit to an unfortunate prisoner; the tactful and patient instruction we can give to those who have gone astray through ignorance rather than through malice; and at times the rebuke we can administer to a hardened sinner in such a way as to make it quite clear that our only motive is to win him back to the real happiness which only goodness can give. Remember, however, that the practice of the spiritual works of mercy does not excuse us from the exercise of material works of charity whenever that is possible for us. (Cf. James 2:16)

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