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This Page Last Updated:

January 02, 2004


Vol. 43, Issue No. 140

Love Thy Neighbor

"This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
John 15:12

        A most appropriate reflection during this wondrous Season of Christmas-Epiphany, as we gaze at the beautiful little Baby in His crib of straw—God’s Love Incarnate—is the "new commandment" He taught by word and example, that we love one another as He has loved us. The following reflections are abridged from the School of Christian Perfection by St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori.

It is impossible to love the Lord our God without at the same time loving our neighbor. The commandment that obliges us to love our God, obliges us also to love our neighbor also. "And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother." (1 John 4:21) From these words of the Apostle, St. Thomas Aquinas concludes that the one virtue of love embraces the love of God and the love of our neighbor. St. Jerome tells us that when the disciples of St. John the Evangelist asked him why he spoke so often of brotherly love, he replied: "Because it is the commandment of the Lord, and this alone suffices."

St. Catherine of Genoa once said to Our Lord: "O my God, Thou commandest me to love my neighbor, and I can love no one but Thee." Our Saviour replied: "My daughter, whoever loves Me loves everything that is loved by Me."

Why, therefore, must we love our neighbor? Because he is loved by God. St. John was therefore right when he called him a liar who says that he loves God but hates his neighbor. Our Lord has promised that He will regard as done to Himself what we do for the least of our brethren: "Amen I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these, my least brethren, you did it to me." (Matt. 25:40). From this St. Catherine of Genoa concludes: "If you wish to know how much a person loves his God, see how much he loves his neighbor."

Christian charity is one of the principal fruits of the Redemption. The prophet Isaias had foretold this truth in the following words: "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid: the calf and the lion and the sheep shall abide together, and a little child shall lead them."(Is. 11:6) By these words he wished to say that the followers of Jesus Christ, though from different nations and different climes and of unlike characters and inclinations, would nevertheless live peacefully together, for brotherly love would induce them to practice mutual forbearance. And St. Luke, when speaking of the first Christians, says: "The multitude of believers had but one heart and one soul." (Acts 4:32)

This was the effect of the prayer which our Redeemer addressed to His heavenly Father on the eve of His Sacred Passion: "Holy Father, keep them in Thy Name whom Thou hast given Me; that they may be one, as We also are." (John 17:11)


        Dear Christian reader, if you are desirous of practicing the beautiful virtue of charity, strive in the first place to reject every rash judgment, every distrust, and unfounded suspicion of your neighbor. It is a grave fault, without sufficient reason, to doubt the innocence of another. It is graver still to entertain a real suspicion, and far more so when without adequate reason we hold for certain that another has done wrong. He who judges in this manner will himself be judged: "Judge not," our Divine Redeemer says, "that you may not be judged; for with what judgment you judge, you shall be judged; and with what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again." (Matt. 7:1-2). I say, "without sufficient reason," for when there are good grounds for suspecting or even believing evil of another, no sin is committed by such thoughts. However, it is, according to the teaching of the Apostle, always safer and more in harmony with charity to think well of others and to refrain from all unfavorable judgments and suspicions: "Charity thinketh no evil." (I Cor. 13:5)

This advice is not intended, of course, for those who are entrusted with the guidance of others, for it is advisable and even at times necessary for such to entertain a certain distrust; otherwise great evils may arise as the result of a na´ve confidence. But if you are not charged with the duty of watching over others, try always to think well of your fellow men. St. Jane de Chantal says: "In our neighbor we must direct our attention to the good and not to the evil. And if it should happen that we deceive ourselves by regarding as good what in reality is bad, we need not be disturbed, for St. Augustine says, charity is not grieved when by mistake it attributes something good to one who is evil."

Beware of trying to find out the faults of your neighbor. Do not imitate those who go about inquiring what is said of them and thereby fill their heart with suspicion, bitterness and aversion. Things are often represented to be different from what they really are. If you hear, therefore, that an unfavorable comment has been passed on you, do not attach much importance to the assertion and do not seek to know its origin or source. Act in such a manner that everyone must speak well of you, and then let others talk as they will. You might possibly say to yourself, when your faults are spoken of: "That is the least they can say about me; what if they knew all!"


To practice charity in speech you must, above all things, avoid calumny and slander. He who has contracted this deplorable habit disfigures his own soul and is hated everywhere, as the Holy Ghost says: "He shall defile his own soul and shall be hated by all."(Ecclus. 21:31) If there are some who agree with him at times and encourage him in speaking ill of his neighbor, these very persons will later avoid him and be on their guard against his venomous tongue. They reason, and justly so, that if he speaks ill of others to them, he will speak ill of them to others. St. Jerome remarks that many who have renounced the other vices seem not to be able to keep from uncharitable talk. Even among those who consider themselves particularly devout there are many who cannot move their tongue without wounding someone. God grant they may not end their life as did one unhappy slanderer; when on his deathbed, he bit his tongue in a fit of rage, and in this condition he died. St. Bernard speaks of another who was about to speak ill of St. Malachy when suddenly his tongue became swollen and was devoured by worms; after seven days of terrible agony he died a wretched death.

But, on the other hand, how dear to God and man is he who endeavors to speak well of everyone! "If in the course of his life, a man never spoke ill of his neighbor, I would consider him a saint," says St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi. Carefully guard against the habit of speaking unkindly of others, and especially of superiors and those consecrated to God. We render ourselves guilty of detraction not only when we reveal the hidden faults of our neighbor, but also when we interpret his good works amiss or assign to them an evil intention. It is a common fault with some people, when speaking of their neighbor, to begin with praise and end with blame. For example, "So and So is very capable; isn’t it too bad he’s so proud?" Or, "He is very generous, but he spoils it all by being revengeful."

Dear reader, try always to say only what is good of your neighbor. Speak of others as you would wish others to speak of you. And in regard to the absent, follow the beautiful advice of St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi: "Say nothing of an absent brother that you would not wish to say in his presence." When you hear others speaking unkindly, be careful not to encourage them by manifesting an interest or pleasure in what they say; you might otherwise be a partner in their guilt.

"Six things there are," says the Wise Man, "which the Lord hateth and the seventh his soul detesteth." (Prov. 6:16) This seventh thing is the person who "soweth discord among the brethren." The talebearer goes about telling people what he has heard others say of them. He scatters the seeds of discord, enmity, quarrels and revenge. How severe the account such tongues will have to give before the judgment seat of God. If in the heat of passion one person speaks ill of another, we can have patience with him; most likely he will repent of what he has said. But how can the Lord be patient with those who deliberately sow seeds of discord and strife and destroy the peace and happiness of their fellow men? "Hast thou heard a word against thy neighbor?" says the Holy Ghost, "let it die within thee, trusting that it will not burst thee."(Ecclus. 19:10) You must not be satisfied merely to enclose it in your heart; you must let it die there. There are people who, on hearing a secret, seem to suffer the agonies of death until they can make it known in some way. Their secret is like a thorn that is piercing the heart and it must be torn out as soon as possible. Do not act in this way. If you know that your neighbor has committed a fault, be silent about it. Only then, when the good of others or of the guilty one demands it, may you reveal what you know.

In conversation, as far as possible avoid disputes. There are some people who have such a spirit of contradiction that they seem to take pleasure in always questioning what others say, even though it be of little or no importance. Thus little trifles sometimes give rise to a war of words; charity is wounded and the bonds of friendship are broken beyond repair. "Strive not in a matter which doth not concern thee," says the Wise Man. (Ecclus. 11:9)

But, you will say: "I am right; I cannot bear to hear such absurd talk." Listen to what Cardinal Bellarmine says: "An ounce of charity is better than tons of right." To yield in a war of words is to win a victory, for you grow in virtue and preserve peace, which is better far than obstinately maintaining your right.

When you are offended or spoken to in an angry way, try to reply with meekness. If you are too agitated to do so it is better to say nothing at all, for in the heat of passion you may think what you say is right and proper, but afterwards, when the excitement has passed away, you will regret what you have said. An eye that is disturbed by anger, says St. Bernard, cannot see what is right or wrong. Passion is like a black veil that is drawn before the eyes; while it is there we cannot see things in their proper light. When he who offends you asks pardon, be generous enough to grant it in a gracious manner. If you have offended another be quick to repair the harm you have done. St. Bernard says, the best way to heal the wound you have inflicted by uncharitableness is to humble yourself. The longer you delay, the harder it becomes, and eventually you may neglect it altogether. Our Blessed Savior once said: "If thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee; leave thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother: and then coming thou shalt offer thy gift." (Matt. 5:23) But if it should happen that such self-humiliation would only anger the offended person the more, endeavor by some other means to quiet him.


Above all things I would recommend to you charity towards your enemies. "Love your enemies," says Our Lord, "do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you, that you may be the children of your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:44) How sad it is to see Christians who go to church and even to Holy Communion and still retain enmity in their hearts! If anyone has injured you, and you wish to be revenged, try to act as the saints have done. St. Paulinus tells us that to love one’s enemy is a heavenly revenge. St. Catherine of Siena took revenge on a woman who had attacked her honor in this manner: during a long and severe illness which the woman suffered, St. Catherine waited on her as a servant. St. Acacius sold his possessions in order to assist a man who had robbed him of his good name. St. Ambrose supported a man who had made an attempt on his life. Venustian, the Governor of Umbria, a persecutor of the Church, had the hands of St. Sabinus, Bishop of Spoleto, cut off because the saint, instead of adoring an idol, broke it to pieces. Hereupon, the Governor was seized with such violent pains in the eyes that he called on the saint to help him. Sabinus prayed for him and not only cured his body but also his soul; the Governor embraced the True Faith.

But someone will say: "These were saints; I have no such strength and grace." St. Ambrose replies: "If strength is wanting, pray to God and He will give it you." If we forgive others, we are certain of forgiveness ourselves: "Forgive and you will be forgiven," says Our Lord. (Luke 6:37) "If I called a dead person to life," says St. Baptist Verani, "I would be less certain of being loved by God than when I am prepared to do good to him who has done evil to me." Our Lord Himself said one day to St. Angela de Foligno: "The surest sign of mutual love between Me and My servants consists in their loving someone who has offended them."

If you can do nothing else, dear reader, pray for those who have offended or injured you. Her sisters in religion used to say of St. Joanna of the Cross: "If you want Mother Joanna to pray for you, all that is necessary is to offend her." One day when St. Elizabeth, Queen of Hungary, was praying for a person who had injured her, she heard Our Lord say: "You have never uttered a prayer that was more agreeable to Me than this; in consequence I forgive you all your sins."


The love that is directed to the spiritual welfare of your neighbor is doubtless the best. In the eyes of God, says St. Bernard, a soul is worth more than the whole world. Could there be anything, therefore, more noble and sublime than to labor with Jesus Christ for the salvation of souls? But you may say: "I am not called to the service of the sanctuary; this is the work of the priests." St. Augustine replies: "If you truly love God, you will do all in your power to make others love Him." We may likewise say: If you truly love yourself, you will make every possible effort to win souls to God, for he who converts a sinner saves not only the sinner, but himself. When Jonathan with great danger to himself had delivered the Jews from the hands of the Philistines, he was condemned to death by his father because, in spite of a prohibition, he had eaten a little honey. But the people said to Saul: "Should Jonathan, who has delivered us all from death, himself die?" In this way they obtained his pardon and deliverance from death. In a similar manner the souls that we help to save will plead beseechingly in our behalf before the judgment seat of God. And God will answer their pleading.

"From henceforth they may rest from their labors, for their works follow them." (Apoc. 14:13) St. Gregory says we shall gain as many crowns as we win souls to God. "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16). Our Lord said one day to St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi: "See how many Christians are in the hands of the devil; if My elect do not free them by prayer, these unfortunates will be eternally lost."

If you have an opportunity to assist the dying, remember that you are performing an act of charity very acceptable to God. St. Philip Neri often saw the angels putting words of consolation on the tongues of those who assisted the dying. See that the priest is called in time to administer the last Sacraments while the patient is still conscious. Suggest little acts of faith, hope, love and contrition. Assist the sufferer to pronounce the holy Names very often and to make acts of resignation to the Will of God. When the soul is departing, say the prayers for the dying and recommend the departed soul when it appears before the judgment seat of God. An evergreen wreath of prayers should be laid on the grave and frequent mementos made during Holy Mass for a speedy entrance of the departed soul into the everlasting joys of our heavenly home.


        A very important duty of charity towards our neighbor consists in giving him alms when he is poor and needy and we ourselves are in a position to do so: "Of that which remaineth, give alms," says our Blessed Redeemer. (Luke 11:41) But we must distinguish: If our neighbor is in extreme want we are bound to assist him with what is not absolutely necessary for our own sustenance. If his necessity is not extreme, but very great, we must help him with what we ourselves do not need. "Alms delivereth from death," said the Archangel Raphael to Tobias, "and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting." (Tob. 12:9)

"He that hath mercy on the poor," says the Holy Ghost, "lendeth to the Lord; and he will repay him." (Prov. 19:17) If we can do nothing else let us at least recommend him to God, for prayer is also an alms. "He that shall see his brother in need," says St. John, "and shall shut up his heart against him, how doth the charity of God abide in him." (1 John 3:17) "With what measure you mete it shall be measured to you again," says our Blessed Redeemer. (Mark. 7:2) St. Mary Magdalen de Pazzi said she would feel happier by assisting her neighbor than if she were raised to heavenly contemplation: "If I am in contemplation," said she, "God is helping me; if I assist my neighbor I am helping God." This is very true, for Our Lord Himself said: "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do to me." (Matt. 25:40)

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