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The seven habits of true charity

"True charity is clearly an imperative. True charity is clearly the mark of a Christian."

Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Easter (Cycle C)

On the eve of his dolorous Passion, the climactic demonstration of the Father’s self-giving love, our Lord left us a memorial of specific instructions pertaining to the supernatural habit of true charity, “I give you a new commandment: Love one another! Just as I have loved you, you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

True charity is clearly an imperative. True charity is clearly the mark of a Christian. Its permanence indicates that it is also clearly not a fleeting affective inspiration, but a daily way of life lived consciously and uncompromisingly in every moment under the prompting of the Spirit. Though it is a way that was never promised to be smooth or comfortable, for “we must go through many trials to enter the kingdom of God,” it is a way towards “a new heaven and a new earth,” and towards the God who not only makes “all things new,” but who “will pitch his tent” among us.

If true charity is the key to an eternity with the “God-with-them,” then true charity must consist of a genuine discipleship founded upon a single-minded intention to being and becoming “I-with-them.”

Along with Dostoevsky’s Alyosha Karamazov, we must be willing to confess, “We are all responsible for everyone else – but I am more responsible than all the others.” It is therefore, a consistent way of thinking and doing according to the exemplar of the Christ – which needs to be patiently reinforced through the inculcation and practice of the following daily habits – which must establish principally how we should relate to others.

The Habit of Patience and Admonition – We must learn to patiently bear with people whose attributes and behavior make them difficult to love. However, we must use every or the soonest possible opportunity to positively guide them towards the improvement of such attributes and behavior. This habit accepts the fundamental reality that every person must grow and must be allowed to develop from and beyond previous mistakes and shortcomings: He/she who is allowed to recover, will recover and will be redeemed.

The Habit of Serving the Disadvantaged and Comforting the Afflicted – We must always be ready even in small and unrecognizable ways, to help those in need, especially those physically deprived or socially forsaken: the sick, imprisoned, abandoned or neglected and the impoverished. We can attend to their spiritual needs by praying for them often, if it is not possible to contribute to their material needs.

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The Habit of Intercession – We can wholeheartedly offer the merits of our prayers, trials and sufferings for those who are unable or unwilling to offer anything for God. Since our offerings may not be perfect nor complete, we give them to God along with the merits of the perfect and complete sacrifice of our Lord.

The Habit of Forgiveness and Justice – We must learn to forgive those who have committed sins against us and God. If our Father guaranteed divine mercy for all those who without exception are sincerely repentant, then why dare refuse what God himself will not refuse? On the other hand, if one has been deprived of is his/her due by another through sin, then we must ensure that the oppressed be rightfully compensated for that which was lost, from the efforts and resources of the oppressor. If our Father guaranteed divine justice for all those who without exception are obediently faithful, then why dare not claim what God himself demands?

The Habit of Expecting Nothing in Return – Whenever we give, we must never expect anything in return. True charity may in fact, be more of a ‘receiving’ manifested in ‘giving,’ a human offering of love and service in response to the gift of divine mercy and compassion: The ‘giving’ is therefore, its own reward.

The Habit of Daily Prayer – We must strive to pray always. Since true charity can only come from God, then it can only be sufficiently sustained through prayer. Only in times of prayer can we fully express our frustrations and pains; fully listen to his wisdom and advice; and fully renew our commitment to continue loving no matter how unlikeable, those whom he also loves.

The Habit of Self-Oblation – We must always be prepared at the opportune moment, to fully give our lives for God and for others. If our Lord never doubted and totally trusted in Abba, surrendering himself wholly to the perpetual embrace, then why shouldn’t we?

Brother Jess Matias is a professed brother of the Secular Franciscan Order. He serves as minister of the St. Pio of Pietrelcina Fraternity at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Mandaluyong City, coordinator of the Padre Pio Prayer Groups of the Capuchins in the Philippines and prison counselor and catechist for the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology.

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