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excerpt from
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 could write: 

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.