St. Paul reminds us that charity is superior to eloquence, to prophecy, to philanthropy, to humanistic martyrdom. “If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:1-3)
Charity is greater than faith, for in heaven there will be no faith. How can one merely “believe” when one actually “sees”?
Charity is greater than hope, for there will be no hope in heaven. How can one hope when one possesses?
But there will be charity; for God is love. “And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” (1 Cor. 13:13)
In The Greatest Commandment, published by Sophia Institute Press, Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen gives readers some timely advice regarding the nine ingredients to charity and how we can apply them into our daily life.
“Charity is patient, is kind: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up; Is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth.”(1Cor. 13:4-6)
“Charity is patient.” Charity is never in a hurry; it knocks, but breaks down no doors. A charitable heart, like the Church, knows that evil is transitory. Though evil has its “hour” as it did in the Garden of Gethsemane, God will have His “day.” “But that on the good ground, are they who in a good and perfect heart, hearing the word, keep it, and bring forth fruit in patience.” (Luke 8:15) “In your patience, you shall possess your souls.” (Luke 21:19)
“Be patient, therefore, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. Behold, the husbandman waiteth for the precious fruit of the earth: patiently bearing till he receive the early and latter rain. Be you therefore also patient, and strengthen your hearts: for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Behold, we account them blessed who have endured. You have heard of the patience of Job, and you have seen the end of the Lord, that the Lord is merciful and compassionate. (James 5:7, 8, 11)
“Charity … is kind.” The whole life of Our Lord has been summarized thus: “He went about doing good.” No soul ever saves itself in isolation. We pray in the context of “Our Father,” and live in the solidarity of the “Mystical Body of Christ.” Charity is emancipation from selfishness; it is a going outside of self for the interests of others.
Although it is kindness, the essence of love is not feeling.
“My son, in thy good deeds, make no complaint, and when thou givest any thing, add not grief by an evil word.” (Sirach 18:15) “And be ye kind one to another; merciful, forgiving one another, even as God hath forgiven you in Christ.” (Eph. 4:32)
“Charity envieth not.” Jealousy and envy are the tributes which mediocrity pays to genius. Charity is never competitive; it always goes beyond the limits of service or measure. When we rest on the laurels of the ordinary, we clip the wings of charity.
True generosity never looks to reciprocity; it gives neither because it expects a gift in return, nor because there is a duty or obligation to give. Charity lies beyond obligation; its essence is the “adorable extra.” Its reward is in the joy of giving.
“When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, not thy kinsmen, nor they neighbors who are rich; lest perhaps they also invite thee again, and a recompense be made to thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind; And thou shalt be blessed, because they have not wherewith to make thee recompense: for recompense shall be made thee at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
“And if you lend to them of whom you hope to receive, what thanks are to you? For sinners also lend to sinners, for to receive as much. But love ye your enemies: do good and lend, hoping for nothing thereby: and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the sons of the Highest; for he is kind to the unthankful, and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” (Luke 6:34-36)
“Charity is not pretentious, is not puffed up.” Humility is truth: seeing ourselves as we really are; that is, as God knows our hearts. Affectation is cheating; boasting is an admission of our own indigence. Charity hides itself. The greater the vacuum there is in our heart, the more room there is for God. Full of self, empty of God.
“Thou hypocrite, cast out first the beam out of thy own eye, and then shalt thou see to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:5)
“But when thou art invited to a wedding, sit not down in the first place, lest perhaps one more honourable than thou be invited by him.” (Luke 14:8)
“Take up my yoke upon you … and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls.” (Matt. 11:29)
“Charity … is not ambitious.” The poet warned: “I charge thee, fling away ambition. By that sin fell the angels; how can man then, the image of his Maker, hope to win by it.”
“There is a rightful pursuit of the best, but what is here condemned is an insatiable lust for glory or wealth or prestige which is purchased by crawling on others’ backs.” The fire never saith: It is enough.” (Prov. 30:16)
“Charity seeks glory, too; not the glory of men, but the glory of God. It is even willing to have its worldly position sacrificed for the advancement of truth and honor. “Blessed are ye when they shall revile you, and persecute you, and speak all that is evil against you, untruly, for my sake.” (Matt. 5:11)
“It shall not be so among you, but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister: And he that will be first among you, shall be your servant.” (Matt. 20:26-27)
“The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and they that have power over them, are called beneficent. But you not so: but he that is the greater among you, let him become as the younger; and he that is the leader, as he that serveth. For which is greater, he that sitteth at table, or he that serveth? Is not he that sitteth at table? But I am in the midst of you, as he that serveth.” (Luke 22:25-27)
“However, many of the chief men also believed in him; but because of the Pharisees, they did not confess him, that they might not be cast out of the synagogue. For they loved the glory of men more than the glory of God.” (John 12:42-43)
“Charity . . . seeketh not her own.” The way to win friends and influence people is not to flatter them, but to be selfless. The greatest happiness in life comes not from having, but from giving. From the Christian point of view, the true master is the servant.
The selfish soul who says: “I am going to do as I wish” really means “I am going to force others to do as I wish.” No one loves himself too little. About the only romance some souls have is the unhappy one of loving only themselves.
The sign of the end of the world will be selfishness. “Know also this, that, in the last days, shall come dangerous times. Men shall be lovers of themselves, covetous, haughty, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, wicked.” (2 Tim. 3: 1-2)
“But before all things have a constant mutual charity among yourselves: for charity covereth a multitude of sins.” (1 Pet. 4:8)
“And that he should be loved with the whole heart, and with the whole understanding, and with the whole soul, and with the whole strength; and to love one’s neighbour as one’s self, is a greater thing than all holocausts and sacrifices.” (Mark 12:33)
“See thou never do to another what thou wouldst hate to have done to thee by another.” (Tobit 4:16)
“Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
“For God so loved the world, as to give his only begotten Son; that whosoever believeth in him, may not perish, but may have life everlasting.” (John 3:16)
“Bear ye one another’s burdens; and so you shall fulfill the law of Christ.” (Gal. 6:2)
7) Good Temper
”Charity … is not provoked to anger.” Bad temper is an indication of a man’s character; every man can be judged by the things which make him mad. Heaven could be ruined by one single soul who was touchy. “A peaceable tongue is a tree of life: but that which is immoderate, shall crush the spirit.” (Prov. 15:4) “A hot soul is a burning fire; it will never be quenched, till it devour something.” (Sirach 23:22)
The way to sweeten a soul is not just to take hate out, but to put love in. The even-tempered man possesses his soul. He never flies into a rage at others because he knows that God might rightfully be angry with him. By practicing good-naturedness with others, he hopes to obtain the blessing of God on himself.
Our Lord did not throw stones back at those who would have taken His life. ”They took up stones therefore to cast at him. But Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple.” (John 8:59)
“A mild answer breaketh wrath, but a harsh word stirreth up fury.” (Prov. 15:1)
“Brethren, and if a man be overtaken in any fault, you, who are spiritual, instruct such a one in the spirit of meekness, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.” (Gal. 6:1)
“But the servant of the Lord must not wrangle: but be mild towards all men, apt to teach, patient.” (2 Tim. 2:24)
“Charity . . . thinketh no evil.” Those who most readily attribute evil to others are generally themselves evil. A dishonest politician will invariably accuse all politicians of being dishonest; an unfaithful husband will accuse his wife of infidelity.
The sense of justice is so deep-rooted in us that if we are not good, we try to pacify our consciences by attributing the same evil to others. Charity, on the contrary, is unsuspicious; and, because it believes in others, is most encouraging of good. Charity never imputes the evil motive, never judges solely by externals.
“Whosoever speaketh ill of anything, bindeth himself for the time to come: but he that feareth the commandment, shall dwell in peace.” (Prov. 13:13)
“But do not apply thy heart to all words that are spoken: lest perhaps thou hear thy servant reviling thee. For thy conscience knoweth that thou also hast often spoken evil of others.” (Ecc. 7:22-23)
“For our glory is this, the testimony of our conscience, that in simplicity of heart and sincerity of God, and not in carnal wisdom, but in the grace of God, we have conversed in this world: and more abundantly towards you.” (2 Cor. 1:12)
“Purifying your souls in the obedience of charity, with a brotherly love, from a sincere heart love one another earnestly.” (1 Peter 1:22)
“That you may be blameless, and sincere children of God, without reproof, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:15)
“Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth.” It is a common human standard to judge virtues by the vices from which we abstain; and to find the wickedness of others an excuse for our own: “I am just as good as the next fellow.”
Charity, on the contrary, refuses to capitalize on others’ failings. Its joy is found in truth, and in things as they really are. Charity refuses to subscribe to the modem dictum that “good and evil depend entirely on your subjective point of view.” In truth, means independent of self.
“Woe to you that call evil good, and good evil: that put darkness for light, and light for darkness: that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” (Isa. 5:20)
“Why art thou seduced, my son, by a strange woman, and art cherished in the bosom of another?” (Prov. 5:20)
“Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I say rejoice.” (Phil. 4:4)
“The kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in a field. Which a man having found, hid it, and for joy thereof goeth, and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field.” (Matt. 13:44)
“Delight in the Lord, and he will give thee the requests of thy heart.” (Ps. 36:4)
“So also you now indeed have sorrow; but I will see you again, and your heart shall rejoice; and your joy no man shall take from you.” (John 16:22)
Physical and spiritual expressions of charity
There are seven ways in which Charity may be expressed physically:
- To feed the hungry.
- To give drink to the thirsty.
- To clothe the naked.
- To succor the stranger.
- To visit the sick.
- To ransom the captive.
- To bury the dead.
- There are seven ways in which Charity may be expressed spiritually:
- To instruct the ignorant.
- To counsel the doubtful.
- To admonish sinners.
- To bear wrongs patiently.
- To forgive offenses willingly.
- To comfort the afflicted.
- To pray for the living and the dead.
Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen reminds us that by practicing the corporal and spiritual works of mercy, we can put these nine ingredients of charity into practice and hopefully live out more fully The Greatest Commandment given by Our Blessed Lord, “that you love one another, as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)
Editor’s note: Allan Smith is the editor of the The Greatest Commandment: A Fulton Sheen Anthology on Love. It is available as an ebook or paperback from your local Catholic bookstore or online through Sophia Institute Press.
We also recommend our latest interview with Al Smith, “Fulton J. Sheen on Love & the Greatest Commandment” Listen below and find Catholic Exchange on Apple, Google, Spotify, or on your favorite podcasting app.