St. Alphonsus de Liguori, Doctor of the Church
SERMON XXX. FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST. -
ON CHARITY TO OUR NEIGHBOUR.
For with the same measure that you shall mete withal, it shall be measured to you again. LUKE vi 38.
IN this day’s gospel we find that Jesus Christ once said to his disciples: "Be ye merciful, as your Father also is merciful." (Luke vi. 36.) As your heavenly Father is merciful towards you, so must you be merciful to others. He then proceeds to explain how, and in what, we should practise holy charity to our neighbour. "Judge not," he adds, “and you shall not be judged" (v. 37). Here he speaks against those who do not abstain from judging rashly of their neighbours. ”Forgive, and you shall be forgiven" (ibid). He tells us that we cannot obtain pardon of the offences we have offered to God, unless we pardon those who have offended us. ”Give, and it shall be given to you" (v. 38). By these words he condemns those who wish that God should grant whatsoever they desire, and are at the same time niggardly and avaricious towards the poor. In conclusion he declares, that the measure of charity which we use to our neighbour shall be the same that God will use towards us. Let us, then, see how we should practise charity to our neighbour: we ought to practise it, first, in our thoughts; secondly, in words; thirdly, by works.
First Point. How we should practise charity to our neighbour in our thoughts.
1. "And this commandment we have from God, that he who loveth God, love also his brother." (1 John iv. 21.) The same precept, then, which obliges us to love God, commands us to love our neighbour. St. Catherine of Genoa said one day to the Lord: "My God, thou dost wish me to love my neighbour; but I can love no one but thee." The Lord said to her in answer: "My child, he that loves me loves whatsoever I love." Hence St. John says: ”If any man say: I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar." (1 John iv. 20.) And Jesus Christ has declared that he will receive, as done to himself, the charity which we practise towards the least of his brethren.
2. Hence we must, in the first place, practise fraternal charity in our thoughts, by never judging evil of any one without certain foundation. ”Judge not, and you shall not be judged." He who judges without certain grounds that another has committed a mortal sin, is guilty of a grievous fault; if he only rashly suspects another of a mortal sin, he commits at least a venial offence. But, to judge or suspect evil of another is not sinful when we have certain grounds for the judgment or suspicion. However, he that has true charity thinks well of all, Page 125 of 233 and banishes from his mind both judgments and suspicions. "Charity thinketh no evil." (1 Cor. xiii. 5.) ...
... But they that are not entrusted with the care of others, ought to abstain carefully from inquiring after the defects and conduct of others.
And when it is in your power to do it, it will be a great act of charity to defend the character of the persons who have been defamed. The Divine Spouse wishes that the words of his beloved be a veil of scarlet. ”Thy lips are as a scarlet lace." (Cant. iv. 3.) That is, as Theodoret explains this passage, her words should be dictated by charity (a scarlet lace), that they may cover, as much as possible, the defects of others, at least by excusing their intentions, when their acts cannot be excused. ”If," says St. Bernard, ”you cannot excuse the act, excuse the intention. ” (Serm. xl. in Cant.) It was a proverb among the nuns of the convent of St. Teresa, that, in the presence of their holy mother, their reputation was secure, because they knew she would take the part of those of whom any fault might be mentioned.
Thus far, St. Alphonsus. What follows is my commentary.
Avoiding rash judgement has always been difficult, due to our fallen nature. Hence the warning from Our Lord to remove the beam from our own eyes before we try to remove the speck from the eye of our brother. Before the fall of the Great Apostasy and the eclipse of the Church, it was difficult to avoid this fault, even for devout Catholics, even with the benefit of spiritual guidance from our parish priests, nuns, monks, etc. It is doubly difficult in our days. Not only due to the absence, for most Catholics, of spiritual direction from valid priests, nuns, bishops, and pope, but also because of the diabolical cleverness of the attack which we are enduring.
I am not referring so much to judgements on issues pertaining strictly to sins of the flesh. These are also more confused now than before, but as it relates to the trouble of rash judgement, it is not so complicated (at least until very recently!) What I am referring to is demonstrated in the following sample conversation, which takes place between two Catholics who have corresponded with Divine Grace and left the novus ordo religion to keep the Apostolic Faith:
John: So, how long has it been since you left the novus ordo, Mike?
Mike: The last bogus ordo service we went to was Christmas Eve in 1995. I am so grateful to God and Our Lady for getting us out of it.
John: Amen! How did the rest of your family react? You are a cradle Catholic, right?
Mike: Yes. My family have always been Catholic. You know, some good some bad, some fallen away, some very holy. Most, somewhere in the middle. My parents are still trying to figure out what has happened. They don't condemn us for not going to church with them anymore, but they don't quite understand. They would never do or believe anything contrary to the Faith, and would rather die than be separated from the Church. That is what is so hard, you know? For those who were around when there was a pope, bishops, priests and nuns everywhere - because the rot started from the top and came down. The men they were raised to obey with filial respect - parish priests, bishops, the pope - started telling them things that were not right. My folks would never knowingly depart from the Faith, but with all of this confusion, I am afraid they might be in error about some things, simply because they came from a man that they thought to be the pope!
John: Yeah, it was the same with my parents and grandparents. My grandmother was a Third Order Franciscan for over fifty years and would rather die than depart from the Faith, but things are so confused now. Things are looking up though! They are starting to understand and agreed to come to Mass last week - they even went to confession before Mass and then went to communion.
Fred (who was listening in on the conversation): WHAT? John, your parents are HERETICS! They go to the novus ordo!!! How could you invite them to Mass? They should wait until they become Catholic before they go to Holy Communion!
John: Hi Fred. What makes you say that they are not Catholic?
Fred: They have been going to the novus ordo haven't they? So, they can't be Catholic; they are heretics.
John: You don't seem to agree with the Church's definition of what a heretic is. A heretic is someone who knows that the Church teaches something, but believes something different. One must know that his beliefs are contrary to Catholic doctrine in order to be a heretic; he must be pertinacious about it. One can be in error without being a heretic.
Mike: Didn't St. Augustine say something like, "I may someday be in error, but I will never be a heretic?" He said that because he loved the Faith and would never knowingly depart from it.
John: Yes, he did say that. And it is very easy these days to be in error, considering that every diocese in the world has been taken over by a false bishop - even the diocese of Rome.
Fred: But how could they NOT be heretics? They go to the novus ordo and believe that Bergoglio is the pope, for crying out loud. There is no way they could NOT be heretics!
Mike: But, Fred, you have internet service, you know all of these things that Bergoglio and his predecessors have said and done. Not everyone follows things so closely. John's folks and mine grew up Catholic and have never changed their beliefs. They have been the victims of the satanic plot to destroy the Church. You cannot just rashly assume that they have become heretics.
John: Right. If you were to ask them if they believe anything contrary to what the Church teaches, they would be aghast at the very suggestion. They would NEVER go against the Church - and that is what a heretic does. They are confused, no doubt, because they hear teachings that are against what they grew up being taught. But, they never would believe something that they knew was against Church teaching!
Fred: Well, maybe not. But I was scandalized by them going to Holy Communion, even though they went to confession right before.
Mike: I don't think you understand the term scandal either. Scandal is some act that leads people into sin. Are you saying that you were tempted to go to the novus ordo, become confused, and then come back to a real Mass, because of John's parents went to Communion? No, I doubt it. What you actually mean, is not that you were scandalized, but that you decided to make rash assumptions about their interior dispositions and make judgements about things that you cannot know with certainty. Then, you decided to condemn them based on your rash judgements.
Fred: But I know that they go to the novus ordo!
John: But you don't know what is in their hearts. They went to Confession right before Mass. They went to Communion, very reverently. If you ask them any catechism question, they will answer it correctly. They would die before they would deny the Faith.
Fred: How can they NOT be heretics?
Mike: Like we've been saying, to judge someone without certain proof is a mortal sin. Be careful! You would be justified if you were to - with charity - talk about things with them. I don't mean attack them with a battering ram, either! But just ask them about some article of the Faith. If they are mistaken about it, it is your duty to explain what the Church teaches. You have a responsibility to prove to them that it is the Church's teaching, though. You can't expect them to just take your word for it. This is not so easy as you might think! They might bring up Vatican II and so forth, which teaches many heresies, so you will have to be ready to explain how it is false, and teaches modernism. You will have to show them the TRUE Catholic teaching, then you might have to explain that Catholic teaching does not change because it is revealed by God Himself. It is a very long chain of reasoning to explain this horrible crisis. Do you see how complex it is when you want to accuse someone of heresy who professes to be Catholic?
Fred: I begin to understand that things are not as simple as I thought. They should become Traditional Catholics before they go to Communion, though. Maybe they are Catholic, just confused? Maybe I should make an effort to explain, and be patient with them. I had forgotten that it took me years to understand all of this - but I never considered myself as anything other than Catholic.
John: They were Catholics before you were born and they believe the same now that they did then. I think we might have more people coming to understand the situation, family members, friends, and so on, if we did not demand instant understanding of everyone who comes here to investigate things. But as soon as they come, they meet with this cold, suspicious attitude - like yours - that says that everyone must have a "St. Paul Conversion" and instantly realize the situation, or else we will treat them as "heathens and publicans" and turn them away. In reality, most people, myself included, go through a very long and painful process of becoming aware of the depth of this crisis.
Mike: Yes, I know many people who will have nothing to do with anyone, even parents and siblings, if they don't instantly agree with everything that they have taken YEARS to figure out! So they won't go to birthday parties, family gatherings, or anything else with any of their family, until they become sedevacantists and understand everything just they way they do. They forget the example of St. Monica for instance, who even followed Augustine on his journeys when he was truly a heretic and knowingly rejected Church doctrine. She cooked for him, cleaned for him and so forth. Finally, through her prayer and sacrifice, he cooperated with God's Grace and converted. But, Fred, your parents, my parents, John's parents, have never knowingly denied a single teaching of Holy Mother Church and you are ready to abandon them to their fate because you have decided that they are heretics, unworthy of your presence.
Fred: But what if they DO believe some of the heresies of the Conciliar church? Surely, they can't be untainted after so much exposure to the rot?
John: They might be. They might be in error on some points. But to be in error does not put you outside the Church. You would have to establish that they knew that what they believed was contrary to the Church's teaching; something that is very difficult to do these days, with so much confusion every where. We are in the midst of the Great Apostasy, in my opinion. No pope, no bishop in site, hardly any priests. We should be patient with family and friends who only want to be Catholic, explain gently the situation and show them what has happened. St. Monica waited for years, and she had the help of St. Ambrose, the true Mass, confessors, and on and on.
Mike: Indeed! Let's pray more Rosaries, make more sacrifices, fast more often.
Fred: But... aren't we supposed to avoid heretics - even family members?
Mike: Definitely! There are many, many warnings about avoiding heretics. But you're doing it again!
Fred: Doing what?
Mike: Confusing heresy with error. A heretic is somebody who pertinaciously believes something that he knows is contrary to the Church's teaching. People like this must be avoided. So if somebody in your family says, for example, "I know that is what the Catholic Church teaches - but I don't believe it." That person should be avoided; family, friend or whatever. However, please show me the Church's command to avoid people who mistakenly believe that something is Catholic dogma? Much less, should we call people heretics who DO NOT believe anything contrary to the Faith, but are surrounded by false shepherds. My point is, to call someone a heretic who is merely in error is a sin against charity, it is the sin of calumny, because to call someone a heretic is to say that he knows that his belief is contrary to the Faith. This should not be done unless one is certain his guilt. As St. Alphonsus says, quoting St. Bernard, "If you cannot excuse the act, excuse the intention."
John: Well said, Mike. Fred, I know your heart is in the right place, you are of good will. You have been fighting the good fight, and can't stand to see any possible offense offered to Our Lord. That is admirable! But take care not to rashly judge somebody of heresy who would never knowingly deny the Faith. Many people who are trapped in the novus ordo church, are struggling mightily with what seems to be, and is, a terrible puzzle. We must patiently help people; directly by gentle correction and explanation; indirectly by fasting, praying for them, and by treating them with respect, even as we show them that what they believe is false.
Mike: And remembering also, that we live in a time of great upheaval and confusion. We have to be even more patient than those of earlier times when people had the direction of Holy Mother Church to succour them.
Fred: Thank you, my friends. I have a lot to think about!
See: Pertinacity: Material and Formal Heresy by John S. Daly