From a sermon by Saint Leo the Great, pope
In the gospel of John the Lord says: In this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for each other. In a letter of the same apostle we read: Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God; he who does not love does not know God, for God is love.
The faithful should therefore enter into themselves and make a true judgment on their attitudes of mind and heart. If they find some store of love’s fruit in their hearts, they must not doubt God’s presence within them. If they would increase their capacity to receive so great a guest, they should practice greater generosity in doing good, with persevering charity.
If God is love, charity should know no limit, for God cannot be confined.
Any time is the right time for works of charity, but these days of Lent provide a special encouragement. Those who want to be present at the Lord’s Passover in holiness of mind and body should seek above all to win this grace, for charity contains all other virtues and covers a multitude of sins.
As we prepare to celebrate that greatest of all mysteries, by which the blood of Jesus Christ did away with our sins, let us first of all make ready the sacrificial offerings of works of mercy. In this way we shall give to those who have sinned against us what God in his goodness has already given us.
Let us now extend to the poor and those afflicted in different ways a more open-handed generosity, so that God may be thanked through many voices and the relief of the needy supported by our fasting. No act of devotion on the part of the faithful gives God more pleasure than that which is lavished on his poor. Where he finds charity with its loving concern, there he recognizes the reflection of his own fatherly care.
In these acts of giving do not fear a lack of means. A generous spirit is itself great wealth. There can be no shortage of material for generosity where it is Christ who feeds and Christ who is fed. In all this activity there is present the hand of him who multiplies the bread by breaking it, and increasing it by giving it away.
The giver of alms should be free from anxiety and full of joy. His gain will be greatest when he keeps back least for himself. The holy apostle Paul tells us: He who provides seed for the sower will also provide bread for eating; he will provide you with more seed, and will increase the harvest of your goodness, in Christ Jesus our Lord, who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and ever. Amen.
From a sermon by Blessed Isaac of Stella, abbot
Why, brothers, are we so little concerned to seek one another’s well-being, so that where we see a greater need, we might show a greater readiness to help and carry one another’s burdens? For this is what the blessed apostle Paul urges us to do in the words: Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ; and also: Support each other in charity. For this surely is the law of Christ.
Why can I not patiently bear the weaknesses I see in my brother which, either out of necessity or because of physical or moral weakness, cannot be corrected? And why can I not instead generously offer him consolation, as it is written: Their children shall be carried on their shoulders and consoled upon their knees? Is it because I lack that virtue which suffers all things, is patient enough to bear all, and generous enough to love?
This is indeed the law of Christ, who truly bore our weaknesses in his passion and carried our sorrows out of pity, loving those he carried and carrying those he loved. Whoever attacks a brother in need, or plots against him in his weakness of whatever sort, surely fulfills the devil’s law and subjects himself to it. Let us then be compassionate toward one another, loving all our brothers, bearing one another’s weaknesses, yet ridding ourselves of our sins.
The more any way of life sincerely strives for the love of God and the love of our neighbor for God’s sake, the more acceptable it is to God, no matter what be its observances or external form. For charity is the reason why anything should be done or left undone, changed or left unchanged; it is the initial principle and the end to which all things should be directed. Whatever is honestly done out of love and in accordance with love can never be blameworthy. May he then deign to grant us this love, for without it we cannot please him, and without him we can do absolutely nothing, God, who lives and reigns for ever. Amen.
The Lord said to Moses, Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the Lord your God, am holy. Revere your mother and father, and keep my sabbaths. I, the Lord, am your God.
It’s Friday in the first week of Lent, a time for prayer, fasting and alms-giving. It is also a time for reflection.
Alexis de Tocqueville:
“I do not know whether all [American citizens] have faith in their religions—for who can read the bottom of men’s hearts? But I am certain that they believe religion to be necessary for the preservation of republican institutions. This is not the opinion of one class of citizens or one party but of the nation as a whole. One encounters it among people of every rank.”
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput writing in First Things , “A Charitable Endeavor” shares some new and disturbing experiences and observations of “a new and belligerent kind of secularism” which flies in the face of American cultural tradition.
Historically, Americans have been—and remain—a religious people. They have found it quite normal for religious charities, including Catholic ones, to make use of public monies in serving the poor, the homeless, and other needy populations. This arrangement has worked well for everybody. Government gets skilled, cost-effective, and compassionate help in meeting social needs. The Church gets funds for her works of love demanded by faith in Jesus Christ.
But Americans have always known that the Church’s charitable purposes are religiously inspired, not merely humanitarian. They’ve also understood that the Church is an independent partner in helping the government to meet its charitable goals. She is not an arm of the government. She is not a private contractor on the state payroll. The tax exemptions offered by the state to religious charities to help their work are not a gift or a display of kindness by civil authority. They are nakedly practical. Religious charities typically do better social-service work than government agencies and at lower cost.
Chaput notes in an interview with Dr.R.R.Reno of Spirit Catholic Radio out of Omaha Nebraska, that in the tradition of our country the has been a friendly cooperation between Church and State in matters of charitable works and giving. This “new hostility toward religious identity is a symptom of bigotry on the part of secularists (who) want to keep us from being who we are, if were going to share the work of the State.”
The United States is an historical oddity. Unlike the nations of modern Europe, America was not founded on the basis of territorial, cultural, ethnic, or confessional concerns. America is what the Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray called “a proposition country,” built on a set of moral claims about God, the human person, the meaning of life, and the purpose of society. These propositions, in turn, emerged from the Judeo–Christian values and vocabulary of America’s first settlers and founders.
America’s founding documents are thus a mix of commonsense realism and transcendent idealism. God is named as “Creator” and “Supreme Judge” over individuals and governments. The human person is said to be endowed with God-given, and therefore inalienable, rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” The purpose of government is clearly defined and sharply limited: to help secure and defend these basic rights for its citizens.
The American proposition envisions the self-rule of a free people living under a limited government. Civil authority governs with the people’s consent and in accord with the natural law and natural rights established by “Nature’s God.” The people’s freedom is not a moral license. Rather, it is the liberty and duty to pursue the good. The American ideal resembles Lord Acton’s famous definition of freedom: “not the power of doing what we like, but the right of being able to do what we ought.”
Chaput describes the intrusions he experiences in his ministry as Archbishop of Denver, CO. State law-makers have given difficulty to the Church in such areas as adoption, on the issue of the meaning of marriage and legislatures have tried to tailor legislation to dictate the hiring protocol of leaders to such organizations as Catholic Charities and other like organizations.
Consider two recent cases. The first comes from direct pastoral experience. Recently, the Colorado state assembly proposed a bill that would have forced every charitable group receiving state money to comply with a set of “antidiscrimination” laws. That may sound harmless. It may even seem reasonable. But in practice the law would have stripped the Church of any control over the people she hires. Because the proposed law banned “discrimination” on the basis of religion, the Church could easily have been forced to hire non-Catholics or people who publicly reject Catholic teaching—even for key leadership positions.
The implications for Catholics were obvious. The right to define our mission as a Church and to select the people who can best transmit Catholic beliefs and values is at the heart of our religious freedom. No Catholic ministry can ensure its identity if its leaders and staffers cannot be required to be Catholic. Colorado Catholics argued this case forcefully in the state legislature, and the bill was tabled. It never came to a vote. But the issue is by no means dead. And this bad legislation reflected a trend we now see elsewhere. Public officials increasingly push social agendas hostile to religious faith, even at the cost of denying rights historically guaranteed to religious groups.
Here’s a second case. In Boston, the local archdiocese ran one of the nation’s oldest, most respected adoption agencies. Nonetheless, the Church was forced to shut down her adoption ministry. Why? Because the state demanded that the Church begin placing orphans for adoption with homosexual couples—a demand that violates Catholic moral beliefs that children have the right to grow up in a stable family with a married mother and father. Boston’s archbishop, Seán Cardinal O’Malley, sought a conscience clause to exempt the Church from the requirement. State lawmakers refused. The result was the end of more than a century of excellent child-adoption services to the general public.
This case embodied the “grave inconsistency” that Benedict XVI writes about in his encyclical, Caritas in Veritate. A small social subgroup—for example, active homosexuals and supporters of homosexual-related issues—demands that the government defend their right to a controversial lifestyle, a right that is “alleged, . . . arbitrary, and nonessential in nature,” as Benedict puts it. To meet this demand and promote this ambiguous right, public officials attack the “elementary and basic rights” of defenseless children without parents.
Archbishop Chaput poignantly points out
“Government cannot love. It has no soul and no heart. The greatest danger of the modern secularist state is this: In the name of humanity, under the banner of serving human needs and easing human suffering, it ultimately, ironically—and too often tragically— lacks humanity. As Benedict foresees in his encyclical, Deus Caritas Est:”
“The state which would provide everything, absorbing everything into itself, would ultimately become a mere bureaucracy incapable of guaranteeing the very thing which the suffering person—every person—needs: namely, loving personal concern. We do not need a state that regulates and controls everything, but a state that, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, generously acknowledges and supports initiatives arising from the different social forces and combines spontaneity with closeness to those in need. The Church is one of those living forces: She is alive with the love enkindled by the Spirit of Christ. This love does not simply offer people material help, but refreshment and care for their souls, something that often is even more necessary than material support.”
Finally Chaput states that it really is a small group of people relentlessly pursuing these changes and the Archbishop laments that we in the Church have allowed the marketplace to be taken by these forces. We need to harness the same energy for doing good and building society in response to Christ as they for a God-free society.
In the face of modern critics who would crowd out the Church’s ministry of love, American Catholics must reclaim the vision Benedict speaks of here. We need to insist on the guarantees promised by the founders at the beginning of the American proposition: autonomy and noninterference from civil authorities.
But a more important task also remains. Catholics must come to a new zeal for that proposition, a new faithfulness to their own Catholic identity as they live their citizenship, and a new dedication to renewing the great public philosophy implicit in America’s founding documents.
“Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
“Remember, O man, that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return”
A Lenten reflection on “Forgiving the Living” a phrase used by Immaculee Ilibagiza in her own story:
Left To Tell, Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust
Most of us struggle to forgive, finding it difficult to put aside our bumps and bruises. We savor our wounds as though they give us pleasure. We are a strange lot.
Imagine, if you can, living with the memory of genocide. Not a genocide across the world from you, but surrounding you; a genocide that includes your mother and father, your brothers, friends and all your neighbors in one way or another. Imagine a genocide you can smell and touch and that touches you, that calls your name, hunts you and haunts you.
For thousands in the world today, that is the reality. For one particular soul, Immaculee Ilabigiza, the author of Left to Tell, this reality has sprouted wings. She flies high above her small village in Rwanda living forgiveness, not as a half-hearted effort, but as a mission. A dream, that she believes was given her by God, opened her heart to the world. Her touch is one of grace and healing. Immaculee was left behind to let us know that in order to truly be alive to Life, we can and must forgive by the living grace of God.
The Anchoress is right on. This is cool indeed! A priest with a heart for the poor brings doodling celebs into the picture to do good with their pictures. The big bucks their art brings are really great when they’re turned into loaves and fish.