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Family Life and the Virtue of Charity

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Homily for the 23rd Sunday in Ordinary Time

CLICK HERE FOR THE AUDIO PODCAST (Reflection on the lessons we can learn from Hurricane Harvey and then a reflection on fraternal correction as an act of love.)

The Incarnation of the Son of God is the most singular and unique event in human history.  In fact, the birth of Jesus divides history into two parts: the period before his coming and the period that followed his coming.

Every Sunday we profess our belief in this fundamental aspect of our Catholic Faith when we proclaim: “For us men and our salvation he came down from heaven; by the power of the Holy Spirit, he became incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and was made man” (Nicene Creed).

The Incarnation distinguishes Christianity from all other religions.  By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit which confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God” (1 John 4: 2).

It is because of the Incarnation, that Jesus associates himself with every human being.  “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me” (Matthew 25: 40).

This Sunday’s liturgy speaks to us about the most essential virtue of Christianity.  “Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law” (Romans 13: 8).

Charity is the one virtue that defines us as true Christians.

In his recent book, Archbishop Charles Chaput writes: “The point of course is to be a great saint, to love greatly, rightly, and with passion, until we burn ourselves up in service to God and to others.” (Strangers in a Strange Land, page 101)

As we consider the most fundamental virtue of Christianity, we immediately remember Saint Paul’s definition of charity in another part of the Scriptures:

“Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13: 4-7).

 It is here, in this celebrated text that we find the components of the virtue of charity.

Charity, like all the other virtues, is something very practical for our daily lives.  Let us take a close look at Saint Paul’s definition and apply each part of it to our daily circumstances.

To do this we must take a close look at ourselves. As we examine our daily actions, we can ask ourselves these questions:  Have I been patient and kind to everyone?  Have I been arrogant and rude?  Have I been irritable?  Have I been harboring resentment against anyone?

There are two major obstacles to living out the virtue of charity: our ego and our moods.  We need to be selfless and we need to get our moods under control.

Too many people in our contemporary society only live for themselves and too many people live from one mood swing to another.  Authentic Christianity is only possible when life our lives for others.  “I have been crucified with Christ, and I live now not with my own life but with the life of Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2: 19-20).

A healthy family life is the best way to develop the virtue of charity.

Interaction among family members takes place most frequently at the dining room table.  Families need to have dinner together every night.  Excessive involvement in sports and after school activities robs a family of the intimate social life that helps to keep families alive.

Aside from excessive activities, too much television viewing causes family members to isolate themselves into their own little shells.  This is particularly true when parents allow children to have their own television set in their bedrooms.

There are two effective ways to change the quality of family life; the first is to have dinner together every night as a family and the second, to control the use of the television.  If you are not doing these two things, try them, and you will be amazed at the results.

Another aspect of strong family life is a healthy social life.

Too many people live isolated lives.  Too many people are incapable of true friendship.

Christian charity is impossible if we do not even understand what it means to be a friend to someone.

Maybe we can begin to change the social atmosphere of our cities and towns by being of good cheer wherever we may be, and respectfully greeting one another with proper social manners. The regular use of words such as “hello,” “good morning,” and “thank you,” need to be made a normal part of our public behavior.

Aside from all of this, there are other obstacles to the practice of the virtue of charity. Sad family situations can be very challenging to any kind of social life.  The tragedy of divorce and separation leave deep wounds in families that need to be healed.

Divisions in families over religion and moral values also cause deep wounds that may take years to overcome.

Also, the death of a family member may give rise to difficult situations. It is amazing how many families are torn apart by battles over a contested will or the custody of minor children.

There is never an excuse to hate anyone.  Even within these very difficult circumstances, we are called to heed the words of Jesus about forgiveness.  “But I say this to you: love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5: 44).

This Sunday’s Gospel passage from Matthew follows the theme of the Old Testament reading from the Prophet Ezekiel.  Fraternal correction is a part of charity.

When someone is in error, it is an act of charity to correct the person who is doing something wrong.  To instruct the ignorant and to admonish the sinner are two spiritual works of mercy.

Most families today have difficult situations where people do need to speak up and do what they can to save the souls of the lost.  The words from the Prophet Ezekiel cannot be any clearer on this point.

Charity is the most essential virtue of Christianity.  Without this virtue, we cannot call ourselves authentic Christians.

A prayer that can help us live out this virtue in daily life is the well-known prayer of St. Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; and where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; for it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.