COMMON PRAYER: A Commentary on the Prayer Book Lectionary
Volume 2: Septuagesima to Easter Eve
St. Peter Publications
Inc. Charlottetown, PEI, Canada
Reprinted with permission of the publisher.
The sublime subject of today's readings
is charity. In contemporary speech charity has come to mean alms-giving.
Alms-giving has always been the most visible expression of charity, but
charity itself is a Christian's rational love of God and of his neighbour
for God's sake.
In today's Epistle, St. Paul says that charity is the greatest of the
virtues (I Cor 13:13). This is true because charity never ends (v.
8). It is by charity that we shall enjoy God eternally. Consequently,
even now charity fulfils all the other virtues (compare Rom. 13:10) and
directs the soul towards union with God. Thus Bishop Jeremy Taylor
it makes a man chaste without the laborious arts of fasting
and exterior discipline, temperate in the midst of feasts, and is active
enough to choose it without any intermedial appetites, and reaches at glory
through the very heart of grace, without any other arms but those of love.
Charity develops in us in four stages. First, we love ourselves for
our own sake. That is, we have a rational concern for our own well-being,
which is the seed of charity. Next, as we learn that our well-being
depends on God's gracious kindness, we begin to love God for our own sake
because he preserves us. Then, as we come to comprehend the divine
goodness that gives us all that is good in our lives, we begin to love
God for his own sake because he is lovable in himself. Finally, at
the resurrection of the dead, when our bodies shall no more be at war with
our souls (Rom. 7:21-25), we shall begin to love even ourselves purely
for God's sake. That is, our concern for our own well-being will
no longer in any way distract us from the love of God (I Cor. 15:54, 55).
Charity is a duty laid upon us by God (Matt. 22:34-40; John 13:34, 35).
Its performance is a matter of obedience (John 15:10). Therefore,
charity is anything but an emotion or sentiment. It is an act of
the will guided by faith and prudence. It is an unwavering esteem
for the goodness of God and a resolute determination to do his will.
Nevertheless, in some mature and holy souls, charity is made perfect by
zeal or enthusiasm. St. Paul records this zeal of himself in the
Epistle for Sexagesima.
While charity expresses itself principally in love to God, it is also
expressed as a merciful regard for the well-being of others, as a fixed
disposition of the will to help others attain what is good for them, with
reference always to their eternal good. Thus Bishop Jeremy Taylor
could claim: "Mercy and alms are the body and soul of that charity
which we must pay to our neighbour's need...[that] the most miserable person
[may] be reconciled to some sense of participation of felicity."
Today's Gospel depicts one of our Lord's own acts of mercy. Let
us study it and examine ourselves. Then let us beseech God humbly
that he may pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of charity, the
very bond of peace and the chief object of our Lenten fast.