Love is the heart and soul of religion. God is love, and every kind deed is a step toward God. Life is a school in which you acquire knowledge regarding the means of making your life and the lives of your fellowmen happy. That education is founded on love. You cannot live without love, any more than a flower can bloom without sunshine.
There is no power in the world so great as that of love which never loses its strength, never knows its age, and always renews itself. Filial love, fraternal love, conjugal love, patriotism: all are the offshoots of the divine love, rooted in the heart of Jesus, which broke in death so that it might bring love to the world.
Love seeks to assert itself by deeds. Love, a very real force, is not content with fair words. The effect of love is an eagerness to be up and doing, to heal, to serve, to give, to shelter, and to console. A love that remains inactive, a force that is asleep, is a dying love. If you do not wish to cease to love, you must never cease to do good.
Because a kind thought inspires a kind deed, it is a real blessing. A kind word spoken or a harsh word withheld has spelled happiness for many a burdened soul. To have acquired the ability not to think and speak uncharitably of others is a great achievement. The habit of interpreting the conduct of others favorably is one of the finer qualities of charity, but the highest charity is evidenced by doing good to others. Greater than a kind thought, more refreshing than a kind word, is the union of thought and word in action. St. Augustine says, “We are what our works are. According as our works are good or bad, we are good or bad; for we are the trees, and our works the fruit. It is by the fruit that one judges of the quality of the tree.”
The highest perfection of charity consists in laying down one’s life for another, just as Christ offered His life as a sacrifice for mankind.
The Savior once said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ shall enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven.” And the heavenly Father expressed His will in the great commandments: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God. . . . Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.”
Our Lord wants your life to be love in action, even as His was, for He said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” St. Peter summarizes His life in the words: “He went about doing good.”
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus said, “It is not enough that I should give to whosoever may ask of me; I must forestall their desires and show that I feel much gratified, much honored, in rendering service; and if they take a thing that I use, I must seem as though glad to be relieved of it…. To let our thoughts dwell upon self renders the soul sterile; we must quickly turn to labors of love.”
Love is the heart and soul of kind deeds. Just as there is no charity without works, so there may be works of charity without love. St. Paul expressed it this way: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Some people use charity as an effective cloak to hide their human weaknesses. Cowardice, for instance, is being afraid of what people will say. Some people will do a certain amount of good out of sheer cowardice, while in the meantime their avarice covers itself with the cloak of charity.
Self-interest, greed, and vanity also borrow the cloak of charity. Since charitable works draw popular attention, they are bound to prove an excellent advertisement. If a man’s past hinders his social success, he hastens to put on the cloak of charity which literally “covers a multitude of sins.”
Pride and the love of power sometimes put on the cloak of charity, for it gives a man a noble appearance. The demon of pride once was willing to give all his possessions to Christ if, falling down, He would adore him.
Others take up the practice of charity as a kind of sport. They look for the exhilarating feeling of having done a good deed. Later there will be material for selfish conversation.
God is not content with the cloak of charity, or mere kind deeds. He looks for genuine goodness and love. The day will come when He will take away the borrowed cloak of kindness.
God does not so much desire that we should cooperate with Him in His works of mercy as that we should participate in His sincere and ever-active love. His law of social duty is not “Thou shalt give to thy neighbor,” but “Thou shalt love thy neighbor.”
Strive for goodness, not just good deeds
Realizing that God sees all, examine your charitable undertakings and diligently look into your motives. Reject what is meant to pass for charity but is not real love. It is far better to do less “good” and to have more goodness. Lay aside the mere cloak of charity, and, in its place, according to the beautiful words of the apostle, “put on . . . compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience.” That means to cultivate a heart full of genuine, sincere kindness. Then you will be able to appear arrayed in the nuptial garment in the presence of Him who is everlasting love and truth. “The Son of Man is to come with His angels in the glory of His Father, and then He will repay every man for what he has done.”
Charity, to be real, must be strong, energetic, and abundant. It must be replenished constantly. Its abundance is the measure and proof of a vigorous spiritual life.
St. Paul assured the early Christians that he prayed not only for some charity for his converts but for abundant charity. He would have no limits, no measure. He was convinced that Christ’s followers should have a burning zeal to practice charity, this queen of virtues. He says, “It is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.”
He states that this charity should not be pursued blindly, but should be accompanied with a full “knowledge and all discernment.” Love without reason, without discrimination, is false charity. Such love is weakness and may even be very harmful. Charity enlightened with the truth of God and the understanding of the things that are of genuine spiritual value will effect great holiness in your life.
Self-glorification is a rather pagan attitude of mind. Christlike love of self, to which we all are called in virtue of our vocation to the true faith, should urge us to rise to the higher levels of the love of God. It is ultimately to your own advantage to acquire a proficiency in serving God with the sole intention of pleasing Him alone.
Man can resist force, reasoning, science, and talent, but if someone does good to him, he will yield, and all the more readily if the charity is based on a supernatural motive. Sometimes the person who performed the good deed never sees its fulfillment; God wishes to add this sacrifice to the merits of His apostolic zeal. But sooner or later, love will be triumphant. Love always succeeds.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Fr. Lovasik’s The Hidden Power of Kindness, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.