Being a Christian is not determined by what we do, but by what we are. A Christian is a disciple or follower of Jesus Christ. Because we have chosen to become His disciples we accept and follow his teachings and strive to pattern our lives on His which is the manifestation of the Father’s healing and forgiving love for us. (John 14:9). So as St. Paul reminds us it is…”the love of Christ compels us.” (2 Cor. 5:14)
Pope Benedict XVI uses the occasion of his Lenten Message to remind us of this important fact…”we must reflect upon the very heart of Christian life: Charity.” The Holy Father draws from the Letter to the Hebrews (10:24) “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works,” and not to be isolated and indifferent to the fate of our brothers and sisters.
“All too often, the Pope continues, “our attitude is just the opposite: an indifference and disinterest born of selfishness and masked as a respect for ‘privacy.’” Quoting from Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio (1966) he observes that: “Human society is sorely ill. The cause is not so much the depletion of natural resources, nor the monopolistic control by a privileged few; it is rather the weakening of brotherly ties between individuals and nations.”
Surely we see the word’s of Pope Paul lived out in our world today…in the tragic killings of innocent people, in the international discord with war and threats of war becoming a way of life, in the polarization that is wounding the Church and in families devastated by brokenness. We have spoken often of the lack of civility today and we have witnessed the inflammatory and destructive rhetoric in our political process.
Charity is more than generous giving. It is generous living. The Pope reminds us that: “Sacred Scripture warns us of the danger that our hearts can become hardened by a sort of ‘spiritual anesthesia’ which numbs us to the suffering of others…we should never be incapable of ‘showing mercy’ towards those who suffer.”
The Holy Father also identifies “fraternal correction in view of eternal salvation” as an important aspect of Christian charity that is often overlooked. Fraternal correction is not ridiculing or demonizing but loving correction. He reminds us of Proverbs (9:8ff) “Rebuke the wise and he will love you for it. Be open with the wise, he grows wiser still, teach the upright, he will gain yet more.”
Institutionally this is the prophetic role of the Church, to speak out against infringements upon human dignity and religious freedom by the government or international bodies. For bishops, pastors and parents, it means preaching and teaching by word and by witness and always in charity.
We all recognize that loving criticism of our children helps them grow into responsible adults, yet we are often reluctant to lovingly correct our peers. I might add that the corollary to this is to accept loving criticism recalling the old adage that “your best friend is your severest critic.”
In striving to become disciples of Jesus we bring our gifts but we also bring our weaknesses, for Scripture reminds us that “even the upright fall.” In Charity we must not only support each others gifts, but help each other in our weaknesses.
Our journey to God is a journey together.