Sunday, March 11, 2012
On Mutual Charity: St. Francis de Sales
The source of the following excerpt is: The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent. This is from the sermon for the third Sunday of Lent; I’ve excerpted only a small portion of it here.
“Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation.” Luke 11:17
In today’s Gospel [Lk 11:14-28], Our Lord insists that every kingdom divided against itself (not united in itself) is brought to desolation. … These words are among the most remarkable, noteworthy and important that our Divine Master ever spoke. For this reason the ancient Fathers carefully interpreted them.
They agree that our Savior had three kinds of concord or union in mind when He spoke, where division in any of them results in desolation…Since it would require too much time to speak of all three unions, I will dwell only on the third, that which we ought to have with each other. This union or concord has been earnestly preached, recommended and taught to us by Our Lord, equally in word and example. He does this so forcibly and in such admirable terms that He appears to forget to recommend to us the love we ought to have for Himself and for His Heavenly Father. He does this to better inculcate in us the love and union He wants us to have for one another. He even calls the Commandment of love for the neighbor His Commandment (1) [Jn. 15:12], His most cherished one. He came into this world to teach us, as our divine Master. Yet nothing is so stressed, nothing stated so completely as the observance of this Commandment. He does so with good reason, for the beloved of the Beloved, the great Apostle St. John, assures us that anyone who says that he loves God and does not love his neighbor is a liar. [1 Jn. 4:20-21]. On the other hand, he who says he loves his neighbor but does not love God also contradicts the truth. That simply cannot be. To love God without loving the neighbor, who is created in His image and likeness [Gen. 1:26-27], is impossible (2).
Why, then, does Our Lord want us to love one another so much, and why, ask the majority of the holy Fathers, did He take so much care to equate this precept to the Commandment of the love of God? [Matt. 22:39]. It astonished the Fathers that these two Commandments are said to be similar to each other, because one pertains to the love of God and the other to the love of the creature: God, who is infinite, and the creature who is finite; God, who is Goodness itself and from whom all good comes to us, and man, who is full of malice, through whom so many miseries come upon us. For the Commandment to love the neighbor includes also the love of enemies. [Matt. 5:43, 44] O God! What disproportion between the objects of these two loves, and yet these two Commandments are alike to such a degree that the one cannot exist without the other and must necessarily increase or perish in proportion as the other increases or perishes, as St. John declares. [Jn. 3:30]
Mark Antony once purchased two young slaves who were brought to him by a trader. At that time children were sometimes sold, as is still done in some countries today. There were men who supplied them and engaged in this business much as we do with horses in our country today. These two children resembled each other so perfectly that the trader tricked Mark Antony into believing that they were twins, for otherwise how could they resemble each other so perfectly? When they were separated from one another, it was particularly difficult to tell which was which. They were such a rarity that Mark Antony valued them greatly and paid dearly for them. But when he brought them to his house, he found that each spoke a different language. Pliny relates that one was from Dauphiny and the other from Asia, places incredibly distant from each other. Discovering that they were not only not twins, but not even from the same country or born under the same king, Mark Antony flew into a rage and became incensed with the person who had sold them to him. But a certain young character convinced him that their resemblance was that much more remarkable inasmuch as they were from different countries and had no connection with each other. That calmed him. He came eventually to value them so highly that he would have preferred losing all his property to losing these two children, such a rarity did he find in their resemblance.
This helps us to appreciate the fact that, in the same way, the commandments of love of God and love of neighbor resemble each other as much as these two slaves of whom Pliny speaks, even though they too are from “countries” very remote from each other. Indeed, what could be more remote, I ask you, than the Infinite from the finite; than divine love, which relates to the immortal God, from love of neighbor, which relates to mortal man; than the one, which relates to Heaven, from the other, which relates to earth? Because of all this, this resemblance is all that much more amazing. Therefore, like Mark Antony, we should purchase both these loves as twins coming forth from the merciful Heart of our good God at the same time. For simultaneous with His creation of man in His image and likeness, God commanded him to love both God and neighbor.
Brethren: Be imitators of God, as very dear children… (Eph 5:1)
Children who have a good father ought to imitate him and follow his commandment in all things. Now, we have a Father better than all others and from whom all good is derived. [Jas. 1:17]. His commandments can be nothing but perfect and salutary. Thus we should imitate Him as perfectly as possible, and also obey His divine ordinances. But of all His precepts, there is none which He stresses so earnestly, nor for which He has indicated that He desires so exact an observance, as that of the love of neighbor. The Commandment to love God is higher than the Commandment to love the neighbor; but since nature offers greater resistance to the love of neighbor, it was necessary that we should be encouraged in a more particular manner to its practice.
Let us love, then, to the whole extent of our hearts, in order to please our heavenly Father, but let us love reasonably; that is, let our love be guided by reason, which desires that we love the soul of the neighbor more than his body. But let us love his body also, and then, in proper order, all that pertains to the neighbor, each thing according to its merits, for the proper exercise of this love.