FRATERNAL CHARITY (or the Love of One's Neighbor)
Second Meditation - The New Commandment
I. St. Paul's definition of a priest is simply: a man who is specially appointed to the task of loving God and his fellow men, a man chosen from among men to devote himself to a ministry on their behalf at every hour of the day.
This explains why the Divine Master reserved his most touching lessons of fraternal charity for His Apostles and for the very moment they were made priests:
Little children. . . a new commandment I give unto you: that you love one another as I have loved you. . .The distinctive feature, the hallmark, the unmistakable sign of discipleship of Christ is going to be, not so much faith or miracles or even martyrdom for Christ, as their love for one another.
By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one for another. (John xiii, 33-35)
Little children! It is the second time Jesus calls His Apostles by this endearing title, and perhaps it was the last. Servants, friends, brothers, were terms frequently on His lips, but filioli only when speaking to them of mutual charity. This term of endearment was the honeytipped point which made the precept of love penetrate like an arrow into our hearts, by nature so prone to hatred.
II. In calm and silence let us ponder over the newness of this precept which our Saviour and Lawgiver entrusted to His first newly-ordained priests.
The precept is new by reason of the manner and author of its promulgation; not Jehova, at whose touch the mountaintops burst into angry flame; but the Word, made flesh and blood for our sakes, who took upon Himself, as it were, our common touch, our own gentle mode of human speech. It is new, by reason of the place where the precept was given: not the wild rugged peaks of Sinai wrapped in lightning and thunder, but the familiar and heart-to-heart talk of a father among his children after supper; not Jaweh in glorious pomp and splendour, but Jesus of Nazareth, girded with a towel, like a slave, on His knees at Judas's feet, washing and kissing them. The command of love issues from under the feet of the man consumed with fiendish rancour! It was also new in the preamble introducing the command; not the solemn, awe-inspiring I am the Lord thy God (Ex. xx, 2), but that most tender: Filioli mei! my darling children!
III. New also is the standard model of our love for our neighbour.
Formerly it was: Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself; now it is: love one another as I have loved you.
Love for myself, self-love, which is so liable to delusion and perversity, and which I must renounce if I am to become a true disciple of Christ - if any will come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me (Matt. xvi, 24) - is not sufficient a model for other loves; I must take my standard from the incomparably wise, unconquerable, disinterested, infinite love which the Good Shepherd feels for His sheep.
Finally, this commandment is new in extension: "as I have loved you "-to the limits reached by our Lord, to the extremes to which His love has brought Him for our sakes: the Eucharist He had just given us, and the Cross that was awaiting Him.
Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John xv, 13)Any commentary on so many and such sublime "novelties" of the new precept would only unsettle the deep impression that takes hold of any human heart pondering over them carefully.
"It is hard enough to find anyone who will die on behalf of a just man. . . . but here, as if God meant to prove how well he loves us, it was while we were still sinners that Christ, in his own appointed time, died for us." (Rom. v, 7-8)
" . . . the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Gal. ii, 20)
Persuaded that I have to love my neighbour, and being anxious to see unmistakable signs of this love in me, I am going to examine myself and find out whether I possess or not this threefold love, because if I do not I am determined to struggle until it is firmly ensconced in my life:
1. Love for souls, whose loss is my grief, and their salvation my one abiding interest;
2. Love for my enemies, because God created them also, gave them an immortal soul, the same as mine, redeemed them in the Blood of the Lamb, and made them capable of eternal happiness;
3. Love for the poor, with whom Christ identifies Himself and through whose hands He imparts eternal life:
"Make use of your base wealth to win yourselves friends, who, when you leave it behind, will welcome you into eternal habitations." (Luke xvi, 9)I shall have the poor sit at the banquet of my love, and I shall be delighted, O Jesus, that they cannot repay me even with their gratitude; because it is Thou who, according to Thy promise, wilt requite me when the just shall rise again.
Possessed of this threefold love, I shall, by Thy Mercy, O Lord, be able to boast that I observe Thy new precept of charity.
Adapted from The Priest at Prayer
by Fr. Eugenio Escribano, C.M. (© 1954)
Translated by B.T. Buckley, C.M.
Please pray for our priests and pray for vocations to the priesthood!