The following are excerpts of Chapter 4 from the book entitled "The 12 Steps to Holiness and Salvation" from the Works of St. Alphonsus Liguori, which were adapted from the German of Rev. Paul Leick by Rev. Cornelius J. Warren, C.SS.R. The book can be obtained from Tan Books and Publishers, Inc., P.O. Box 424, Rockford, IL 6ll05 U.S.A.
|St. Alphonsus Liguori|
It is impossible to love the Lord our God without at the same time loving our neighbour. The commandment that obliges us to love our God obliges us also to love our neighbour.
St. Jerome tells us that when the disciples of St. John the Evangelist asked him why he spoke so often of brotherly love, he replied: "Because it is the command of the Lord, and the fulfillment of this alone is sufficient for eternal salvation."
St. Catherine of Genoa once said to Our Lord: "O my God, Thou commandest me to love my neighbour, and I can love no one but Thee." Our Saviour replied: "My daughter, whoever loves Me loves everything that is loved by Me." Why, therefore, must we love our neighbour? Because he is loved by God.
Our Lord has promised that He will regard as done to Himself what we do for the least of our brethren: "Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these, my least brethren, you did it to Me" (Matt. 25:40). From this St. Catherine of Genoa concludes: "If you wish to know how much a person loves his God, see how much he loves his neighbour."
If you are desirous of practicing the beautiful virtue of charity, strive in the first place to reject every rash judgment, every distrust and unfounded suspicion of your neighbour. It is a grave fault, without sufficient reason, to doubt the innocence of another. It is graver still to entertain a real suspicion, and far more so when without adequate reason we hold for certain that another has done wrong. He who judges in this manner will himself be judged.
If one is entrusted with the guidance of others, it is advisable, and even at times necessary, for such to entertain a certain distrust. Otherwise great evils may arise as the result of an overweening confidence. But if you are not charged with the duty of watching over others, try always to think well of your fellow men.
St. Jane de Chantal says: "In our neighbour we must direct our attention to the good, and not to the evil. And if it should happen that we deceive ourselves by regarding as good what in reality is bad, we need not be disturbed, for St. Augustine says, charity is not grieved when by mistake it attributes something good to one who is evil."
Beware of trying to find out the faults of your neighbour. Do not imitate those who go about inquiring what is said of them and thereby fill their heart with suspicion, bitterness, and aversion. Things are often represented to be different from what they really are. If you hear that an unfavorable comment has been passed on about you, do not attach much importance to it and do not seek to know its source. Act in such a manner that everyone must speak well of you. You might possibly say to yourself when your faults are spoken of: "That is the least they can say about me. What if they knew all!"
To practice charity in speech you must, above all things, avoid calumny and slander. He who has contracted this deplorable habit disfigures his own soul and is hated everywhere. If there are some who agree with him at times and encourage him in speaking ill of his neighbour, these very persons will later avoid him and be on their guard against his venomous tongue. They reason, and justly so, that if he speaks ill of others to them, he will speak ill of them to others.
But how dear to God and man is he who speaks well of everyone! "If, in the course of his life, a man never spoke ill of his fellowman, I would consider him a saint," says St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi. Carefully guard against the habit of speaking unkindly of others, and especially of superiors. We render ourselves guilty of detraction not only when we reveal the hidden faults of our neighbour, but also when we interpret his good works amiss or assign to them an evil intention. It is a common fault with some people when speaking of their neighbour to begin with praise and end with blame.
Try always to say only what is good of your neighbour. Speak of others as you would wish others to speak of you. And in regard to the absent, follow the beautiful advice of St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi: "Say nothing of an absent brother that you would not wish to say in his presence." When you hear others speaking unkindly, be careful not to encourage them by manifesting an interest or pleasure in what they say.
The talebearer goes about telling people what he has heard others say of them. He scatters the seeds of discord, enmity, quarrels, and revenge. How severe the account such tongues will have to give before the judgment seat of God. The Lord cannot be patient with those who deliberately sow seeds of discord and strife, and destroy the peace and happiness of their fellow men.
There are people who, on hearing a secret, seem to suffer the agonies of death until they can make it known in some way. Their secret is like a thorn that is piercing the heart, and it must be torn out as soon as possible. Do not act in this way. If you know that your neighbour has committed a fault, be silent about it. Only then, when the good of others or of the guilty one demands it, may you reveal what you know.
In conversation, as far as possible avoid disputes. There are some people who have such a spirit of contradiction that they seem to take pleasure in always questioning what others say, even though it be of little or no importance. Thus little trifles sometimes give rise to a war of words; charity is wounded, and the bonds of friendship are broken beyond repair.
Even if you feel you are right, listen to what Cardinal Bellarmine says: "An ounce of charity is better than tons of right." To yield in a war of words is to win a victory, for you grow in virtue and preserve peace, which is better far than obstinately maintaining you are right.
When you are offended or spoken to in an angry way, try to reply with meekness. If you are too agitated to do so, it is better to say nothing at all, for in the heat of passion you may think what you say is right and proper, but afterwards, when the excitement has passed away, you will regret what you have said. When he who offends you asks pardon, be generous enough to grant it in a gracious manner. If you have offended another, be quick to repair the harm you have done. St. Bernard says that the best way to heal the wound you have inflicted by uncharitableness is to humble yourself. The longer you delay, the harder it becomes, and eventually you may neglect it altogether.
A very important duty of charity towards our neighbour consists in giving him alms when he is poor and needy, and we ourselves are in a position to do so. But we must distinguish: If our neighbour is in extreme want, we are bound to assist him with what is not absolutely necessary for our own sustenance. If his necessity is not extreme, but very great, we must help him with what we ourselves do not need. "Alms delivereth from death," said the Archangel Raphael to Tobias, "and the same is that which purgeth away sins and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting" (Tob. 12:9).
If we can do nothing else, let us at least recommend him to God, for prayer is also an alms. "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again," says our Blessed Redeemer (Matt. 7:2). St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi said she would feel happier by assisting her neighbour than if she were raised to heavenly contemplation: "If I am in contemplation," she said, "God is helping me. If I assist my neighbour, I am helping God."
Above all things, practice charity towards your enemies. "Love your enemies," says Our Lord. "Do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven" (Matt. 5:44).
If anyone has injured you, and you wish to be revenged, try to act as the saints have done. St. Paulinus tells us that to love one`s enemy is a heavenly revenge. St. Catherine of Siena took revenge on a woman who had attacked her honor, and this was her revenge: During a long and severe illness which the woman suffered, St. Catherine waited on her as a servant. St. Acacius sold his possessions in order to assist a man who had robbed him of his good name. St. Ambrose supported a man who had made an attempt on his life. If we forgive others, we are certain of forgiveness ourselves: "Forgive and you will be forgiven," says Our Lord (Luke 6:37). Our Lord Himself said one day to St. Angela de Foligno: "The surest sign of mutual love between Me and My servants consists in their loving someone who has offended them."
If you can do nothing else, pray for those who have offended or injured you. Her sisters in religion used to say of St. Joanna of the Cross: "If you want Mother Joanna to pray for you, all that is necessary is to offend her." One day when St. Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, was praying for a person who had injured her, she heard Our Lord say: "You have never uttered a prayer that was more agreeable to Me than this. In consequence, I forgive you all your sins."
The love that is directed to the spiritual welfare of your neighbour is doubtless the best. In the eyes of God, says St. Bernard, a soul is worth more than the whole world. Could there be anything, therefore, more noble and sublime than to labor with Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls? But you may say: "I am not called to the service of the sanctuary; this is the work of the priests." St. Augustine replies: "If you truly love God, you will do all in your power to make others love Him." We may likewise say: If you truly love yourself, you will make every possible effort to win souls to God, for he who converts a sinner saves not only the sinner, but himself.
In a similar manner, the souls that we help to save will plead beseechingly in our behalf before the judgment seat of God. St. Gregory says we shall gain as many crowns as we win souls for God. Our Lord said one day to St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi: "See how many Christians are in the hands of the devil. If My elect do not free them by prayer, these unfortunates will be eternally lost."
St. Alphonsus Liguori