We saw in the introduction to this series of articles that the perfection of charity formally constitutes holiness itself. This is logical if one thinks that the love of God is the form of all the other virtues and the fullness of the law. However, one must consider the exercise of the specific acts of this virtue in the lives of the saints, and not simply observe how it is the soul of all virtuous acts.
The Gospel, repeating the ancient law, clearly affirms that the greatest commandment is to love God “with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind” (Lk. 10:27). Firstly, such love excludes mortal sin, by which we love something more than God, and unites us effectively to God by the will.
It is an infused, theological virtue, by which we participate in the same love with which God loves Himself, we enter into the circle of love of the Trinity, into the society of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost.
Such love can only extend to all those who are able to share it, and cannot exclude any: “thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” This is the second commandment of charity, provided that we understand well that charity remains one, that the Good that such love wants to share is always the very Good of God.
Charity Towards God
Although charity is a single virtue, as we have seen, we can distinguish between acts that speak directly to God and acts that manifest this love for God through the good that one does to one's neighbor.
The Gospel and Scripture are clear when they affirm that the only authentic measure of our love for God is the love we have for our neighbor (1 Jn 4:20): there are, however, acts of charity, interior and exterior, which the saint addresses directly to God.
While in the next article we will show how the authenticity of the saints' charity towards God was verified in their love for their neighbor, here we will try to observe how the saints performed specific acts of love towards God, whatever their outward manifestation. For if the love of God is only real when it manifests itself towards the neighbor, interior and exterior acts of love directed immediately towards God are nevertheless necessary.
Charity as Love of Kindness
Charity is above all a perfect love of benevolence towards God, having God's goodness as its motive; God is loved in Himself and for His own sake. Although man seeks in his actions his own bliss (which is God), perfect charity has as its ultimate end the goodness of God for itself.
The love of kindness manifests itself in three acts:
– Joy for the love of the beloved. In the Gospel, Jesus Himself says to the Apostles: “If you loved me, you would indeed be glad, because I go to the Father” (Jn. 14:28). The saints experienced joy even in the midst of the greatest crosses, precisely because they enjoyed the inalterable goodness of God.
This is why they have gone through human vicissitudes without letting themselves be beaten down by them. St. Francis de Sales said: “I rejoice more in your infinite perfections, Lord, as if they were mine; I rejoice, because nothing in the world can take them away or diminish them” (Treatise on the Love of God, l. 5, c. 6).
– The ardent desire that the good of God spreads, favoring in everything the external manifestation of the glory of God (since the internal manifestation is supreme and unalterable). This was St. Benedict's motto “Ut in omnibus glorificetur Deus - May God be glorified in all things”; and of St. Ignatius of Loyola “Ad maiorem Dei gloriam – For the greater glory of God.”
The personal disinterest, even the harm, which the saints may have often experienced personally in pursuit of the glory of God, is a sign of this desire.
– Zeal, which outwardly manifests the inner desire. This holy zeal was manifested in two ways:
1) By combating all that hinders the glory of God, especially public sin and scandal. It is a holy zeal that bishops like St. Charles, anxious to eradicate any irregular public situation in the life of his flock: he has in fact pursued public concubines with all the means available to his authority, without facing the limits that the public power wanted to impose, thinking that the first thing to be done was to guarantee divine honor.
2) By positively promoting the honor of God, for example by caring with love and diligence for divine worship: the great saints regulated divine worship with wisdom and respect. Let us think of the care of St. Benedict for Opus Dei.
Let us think of the very detailed laws of St. Charles Borromeo, who did not want even a minimal aspect of worship to be left to chance, thus showing an unlimited love for what is consecrated to God alone; to the attention of St. Pius X for the dignity of public worship.
These saints did not hesitate to devote the best of their resources, even material resources, to divine worship alone, imitating St. Mary Magdalene, the great evangelical example of love for Christ (cf. Jn. 12:1-8).
Another sign of this zeal is the time devoted by the saints to prayer, a time given to God alone. St. Patrick, the apostle of Ireland, recited the whole psalter and canticles every day, as well as hundreds of other prayers and acts of worship. He divided the night into three parts: in the first, he recited a hundred psalms, making two hundred genuflections; in the second, the fifty other psalms, plunged into icy water with hands raised to the sky; only in the third, he rested on a stone.
Charity Towards God as Love of Friendship
Charity is also a love of friendship, that is to say reciprocal, and goods are exchanged between friends. God makes His friend participate in His own nature. If man cannot render anything to God directly, because He needs nothing, God wanted this debt to be returned by man through his neighbor, as we shall see later
The friends of God par excellence are the Apostles, whom Jesus Christ calls by this title in the Gospel of Saint John (15:15). Among the saints, this friendship was also manifested by the familiarity of the conversation they had with God during their lifetime.
We know how St. Scholastica, the sister of St. Benedict, wishing to continue the conversation with her brother (while the latter, according to the rule, wanted to return to his monastery), prayed to the Lord who unleashed such a storm that it was impossible for him to leave.
To her brother's reproach, the saint replied that she had begged him to stay and had not been answered; but that she then prayed to her Lord, who immediately answered her, thus demonstrating her familiarity with God Himself, who was nearer to her than her own beloved brother.