Characteristics of Fraternal Charity – Part 2 of 4

The author of The Imitation of Christ observes: “We would willingly have others perfect, and yet we mend not our own defects. We would have others strictly corrected, but are not fond of being corrected ourselves. The large liberty of others displeases us, and yet we do not wish to be denied anything we ask for. We are willing that others be bound up by laws, and we suffer not ourselves to be restrained by any means. Thus it is evident how seldom we weigh our neighbour in the same balance with ourselves.”

Father Valuy adds: “Charity is generous; it does everything it can. When even it can do little, it wishes to be able to do more. It never lets slip an opportunity of comforting, helping, and taking the most painful part, after the example of its Divine Model, Who came to serve, not to be served.”

A person animated by charity commiserates with his brethren, sharing in their joys and sorrows. “If, on the one hand, compassion sweetens pains to the sufferer by sharing them, on the other hand participation in a friend’s joys doubles them by making them personal to ourselves. Would to God that this touching and edifying charity replaced the low and rampant vice of jealousy!”

“When David returned after he slew the Philistines, the women came out of all the cities of Israel singing and dancing to meet King Saul. And the women sang as they played, ‘Saul slew his thousands and David his ten thousands.’ Saul was exceedingly angry, and this word was displeasing in his eyes, and he said: ‘They have given David ten thousand, and to me they have given but a thousand. . . . And Saul did not look on David with a good eye from that day forward. . . . And Saul held a spear in his hand and threw it, thinking to nail David to the wall.’ (1 Sam 18:6-11) Thus it is that the jealous complain of their brethren who are more successful, learned, or praised; thus it is that they lance darts of calumny, denunciation, and revenge.”

Quotations from Benoit Valuy, Fraternal Charity (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1908).

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Characteristics of Fraternal Charity – Part 1 of 4

Father Valuy writes: “[Charity] cannot live with pride, the disease of a soul full of itself. It willingly prefers others by considering their good qualities and one’s own defects, and shows this exteriorly when occasion offers by many sincere proofs. It always looks on others from the most favourable point. Instead of closing the eyes on fifty virtues to find out one fault, without any other profit than to satisfy a natural perverseness and to excuse one’s own failings, it closes the eyes on fifty faults to open them on one virtue, with the double advantage of being edified and of blessing God, the Author of all good.”

“Egotism, taking for its motto ‘Every one for himself,’ is very much opposed to fraternal charity and the family spirit. It never hesitates, when occasion offers, to sacrifice the common good to its own. It isolates the individuals, makes them concentrated in self, places them in the community, but not of it, makes them strangers amongst their brethren.”

A person who has charity strives to “work harmoniously with those in the same employment, and not to cause any inconvenience to them. Why should we cling so obstinately to our own way of seeing and doing? Do not many ways and means serve the same ends provided they be employed wisely and perseveringly? Some have succeeded by their methods, and I by mine—a proof that success is reached through many ways, and that it is not by disputing it is obtained, nor by giving scandal to those we should edify, nor, perhaps, by compromising the good work in which we are employed.”

“Charity avoids haughty and contemptuous looks, . . . and in the midst of most pressing occupations carefully guards against rudeness and impatience. Careful of wounding the susceptibility of others, it neither blames nor despises those who act in an opposite way.”

“Be edified at the sight of your brethren’s virtues, and edify them by your own. In other words, be alternately disciple and master. Profit by the labours of others, and make them profit by your own.”

Quotations from Benoit Valuy, Fraternal Charity (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1908).

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Fraternal Charity

Here and in the next several posts, we shall read excerpts from Fraternal Charity by the Jesuit Father Benoit Valuy (1808-1869). Father Valuy wrote this short treatise for members of religious orders. However, as the translator notes, it may be of interest to others, for “love, the sunshine of existence, is wanted everywhere.” This English edition bears an imprimatur from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Westminster, dated 1908.

Father Valuy begins by stating: “Our Divine Saviour shows both by precept and example that His favourite virtue, His own and, in a certain sense, characteristic virtue, was charity. . . . How justly could He say, ‘Learn of Me, that I am meek and humble of heart.’ His yoke was sweet, His burden light, His conversation without sadness or bitterness. He lightened the burdens of those heavily laden; He consoled those in sorrow.”

“He calls us His friends, His brothers, His little flock; and as the greatest sign of friendship is to die for those we love, He gave to each of us the right to say with St. Paul: ‘He loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.'”

“Charity towards our neighbour is charity towards God in our neighbour, because, faith assuring us that God is our Father, Jesus Christ our Head, the Holy Ghost our sanctifier, it follows that to love our neighbour inasmuch as he is the well-beloved child of God, the member of Jesus Christ, and the sanctuary of the Holy Ghost is to love in a special manner our heavenly Father, His only-begotten Son, together with the Holy Spirit.”

“Thus it is that charity poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, uniting Christians among themselves and with the adorable Trinity whose images they are, is the vivid and perfect imitation of the love of the Father for the Son, and of the Son for the Father—a substantial love which is no other than the Holy Ghost, and makes us all one in God by grace, as the Father and Son are only one God with the Holy Ghost by nature, according to the words of our Lord: ‘That they all may be one; as Thou, Father, in Me, and I in Thee: that they also may be one in Us.'”

Quotations from Benoit Valuy, Fraternal Charity (New York: Benziger Brothers, 1908).

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How to Examine One’s Conscience

Father Guibert outlines the process: “In an examination of conscience, the eyes of the soul will first of all look in the direction of one’s dominant fault; for there it is that the chief gaps in the moral life appear. And if some are so far ignorant of themselves as not to know what their dominant failing is, they can either watch their own disposition, of which it is usually the natural product, or else ask their spiritual director, who will quickly perceive in their habitual faults what is their most harmful tendency.”

“This principal tendency, which rules the whole of the life, is outwardly expressed in act and word, but after having aroused complex movements within. Those who are only beginning, and who are so far but little trained to catch and repress their inmost thoughts and feelings, will first of all keep watch over words and acts which afford more tangible material for examination, and over these the will has a greater hold. But with practice, attention will turn by degrees from without to within, and will discover defects to be corrected in their very source, and will suppress them before they have had time to come out into the open.”

“There is then an order to be kept in this moral strategy, the object of which is the conquest of self. If sensualism is a serious check to virtue, it must be the primary objective of our attack. As soon as the flesh has been nearly subdued, the hours of the day must be rescued from being arranged by caprice; for he who is master of his time has acquired a great amount of strength. Then will come the art, which St. James declares to be so important and so difficult, of governing one’s tongue, so that it shall not trip in uttering hurtful or inconsiderate words, such as offend against charity or good taste.”

“Whatever may be the matter of our self-examination, it must be done under the eyes of God, and in utter sincerity of soul. Piety will preside over it, either because it calls for divine enlightenment by prayer, or else because, at the end, it implores for grace and strength to overcome evil.”

“Straightforwardness, too, has its part to play, both in driving away delusions that might hide the soul’s weaknesses from the search, and to prevent dissimulation from closing the lips against making the indispensable avowals.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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Reluctance to Examine One’s Conscience

Although an examination of conscience is salutary for one’s spiritual life, many are reluctant to do it. Father Guibert likens their circumspection to that of certain physically ill people “who avoid getting to know their own true condition, in order to spare themselves the anxiety of the medical treatment which a clear knowledge of their danger would force them to undergo.”

Father Guibert remarks: “The most skilful masters of the spiritual life, and especially St. Ignatius Loyola, considering piety as a means of moral progress, have placed the examination of conscience among the most essential of the exercises of the pious life.”

“Some pious people, who have a habit of recollection and are attentive to the inner motions of their hearts, easily dispense with fixed hours of self-examination and with definite subject-matter for it. They are wrong, and deprive themselves of a great source of aid; for this general view of their conscience, without any definite point, is utterly wanting in moral effectiveness. In this vague cognizance that they take of themselves, they do not get an idea of what they are wanting in, and they do not derive from this hazy view of themselves a victorious impulse towards what is good.”

“Anyone who looks to piety for the moral strength to lead a better life should therefore settle for himself every day a time to be set apart for the examination of his conscience. It will be, at any rate, in the evening, at the hour of prayer with which the day closes.”

“Examination of conscience is only real, and brings forth fruit, on condition of having a definite object. To enter into one’s own house is well; but to be satisfied with going round it with a hasty glance is to run the risk of seeing nothing in it. To find out what is out of order, it is necessary to scour a few corners every day, sometimes one and sometimes another. How many houses, to all appearance well kept, reveal serious shortcomings if some one part of them is scanned with close and continued observation.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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Examination of Conscience Invites Conversion

Father Guibert observes: “Every tradesman who has the prosperity of his house at heart remains faithfully at his place of business; he receives the goods himself, he takes care of their safety and checks their sale; he keeps his books accurately, and often compares his cash balance with his accounts. His vigilance eliminates the causes of loss, and adds to the number of opportunities for making a profit. Whilst ruin enters surreptitiously into the dwelling of the careless man who neglects his affairs, fortune awaits him whose careful eye provides for everything.”

“It is the same in the sphere of morality. Self-examination is the safeguard in it for the most sacred interests of the soul.”

“It is, indeed, by the examination of his conscience that a man enters into his own heart. There he is the witness of the feelings that arise, of the passions which disturb him, and of the failings that bring humiliation upon him; he sees the good aspirations that come to grief, and the bad impulses that get the upper hand; and, aware of his wretchedness, and also of his strength, he knows both what to dread and what he may hope for.”

“And this knowledge agitates and arouses him, and makes him form good resolutions. For, however low he may have fallen, there is still within him a deep instinct, which is inherent in his nature, and which protests against what is wrong. It is, indeed, an echo of the voice of God that reverberates in a man’s conscience when he is overtaken with remorse at the sight of the sins that he has committed or of the failings into which he has fallen. If so many people daze themselves with dissipation in order not to hear such reproaches as these, and if they flee from themselves in order not to perceive the stains in their own hearts, it is because they wish to evade the painful effort of reaction that a sight of their wretchedness would stimulate in their souls.”

“The examination of conscience is not in itself a remedy for the ills of the soul. But it effectively invites the soul to take the remedy that will cure it.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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Examination of Conscience for a Life of Piety

Father Guibert discusses the importance of an examination of conscience for a life of piety. He explains: “The immediate aim of piety is to put man in close intimacy with God; for, by faith, it brings forth God from the shadows of mystery and makes Him perceptible to the heart; by love, it embraces Him and takes possession of Him; and by prayer, it becomes attached to Him and drinks in His life, like the babe at its mother’s breast.”

“This intimacy produces joy and peace, together with a feeling of confidence and strength.”

“But enjoyment, however pure it may be, is not the ultimate end of piety. God gives Himself under the form of life, not to efface our own personal life, but to raise it up and to make it better. He sanctifies us, less by making sanctuaries of us in which there is the consecration of His presence than by inspiring us with worthier feelings and nobler actions. It were, then, to misunderstand the divine purpose, and to paralyze the action of the Holy Spirit, if in our piety we did not follow after an increase of moral life by means of virtue.”

“He who only seeks enjoyment in his piety is false to God’s gifts. God only gives Himself and imparts happiness to us here below, in order to help us to live better.”

“And hence, piety enjoins those actions which are presupposed by a good moral life.”

“These acts may be reduced to two in chief: the taking knowledge of oneself and the conquest of oneself.”

“The morally good man is he who has made the conquest of himself in the struggle with the thousand tyrants who contend with him for the rule over his being. He attains a higher moral elevation in proportion as he escapes outside influences and inner caprice and as, being his own master, he gives himself all the more whole-heartedly to duty.”

“But, in order to be one’s own master, the first condition is to remain at home within one’s own heart. Nothing arouses a man more to undertake the government of his life than a frequent examination of conscience, a strict watch upon the movements of his mind and heart, and a faithful taking stock of the value of his acts and of their bearing.”

“This is exactly the end of the examination of conscience; this is what marks its place and signalizes its high importance in the life of piety.”

Quotations from Jean Guibert, On the Exercises of Piety (London: R. & T. Washbourne, Ltd., 1911).

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