This morning at matins the Church nourishes us with the example of Abraham. The matins responsories (and also the Magnificat antiphon of first Vespers) marvel at his willingness, when commanded by God to sacrifice his son Isaac, not to stint to give even this gift of obedience to the Lord. His faith was such that he could hold back nothing from God, even the seemingly unthinkable demand to offer Isaac as a holocaust. Accordingly, his reward was great: rightly does Sacred Tradition name him as “our patriarch” in the Roman canon.
So too, the blind man of the Gospel of Quinquagesima is rewarded for his impertinent faith with the restoration of his sight. “Your faith has healed you,” Our Lord teaches him.
Saint Paul teaches us about faith in today’s Epistle, stating that faith, hope and charity are those things which remain unto eternity. And, after his renown exposition of its content and meaning, he teaches that the greatest of these three is charity.
Charity presumes and builds upon the gift of faith. Charity is fired by hope; it radiates the resurrected presence of Hope Himself: Christ our Lord. Indeed, charity perfects faith and hope and is the overflowing of grace into the practical and habitual love of God and neighbour.
Charity is a burning love of God that will sacrifice all else for Him, as we see in the Patriarch Abraham, in the lives of great saints and martyrs whose only concern is that same love of God. All else flows from this reality, as the first Commandment teaches us. Saint Benedict teaches us to put nothing before the Work of God (Rule, ch. 43). If we get this fundamental precept right, loving and worshipping Almighty God first, everything else will follow in good order.
Charity is a ‘tough’ love that overflows into love of one’s neighbour, even when this love is not welcomed. One cannot but rejoice in the growth of missionary and practical charity towards our unborn brothers and sisters amongst young Catholics and some leaders throughout the world – even as one must recoil in horror at the chilling aggression of far too many world leaders towards their innocent and defenceless subjects. Yes, there are situations where charity, grounded in faith and hope, demands decisive action in the name of Christ.
So too, in respect of my own life, true charity demands decisive action at times. In respect of important decisions, questions of vocation, particular acts of sacrifice or generosity, etc., we often say: “Yes, I would if only…” Abraham may well have had this temptation. The martyrs were often taunted with alternatives.
True ‘tough-love’ charity doesn’t trade in “if-only’s”. It dismisses them for the fear and dissembling that is their currency. Founded on faith and steeped in hope, charity seeks to carry out God’s will, no matter what. It’s currency is not “if only…”. It is as simple as it is clear: ““I shall … out of love for God.”
Such charity, as we know from the Patriarch Abraham and from the witness of so many saints, is richly rewarded by God. It is fruitful in ways that currently we cannot imagine (nor could Abraham or the saints). And as Saint Paul teaches, it endures into eternal life.
For the perfection of faith and hope in a true, tough and fruitful charity, that we too might carry the beauty it brings to our souls, and its fruits, to heaven, let us beg Almighty God in this Holy Mass. +