Charity’s Perfecting Grace
“The highest cannot be without the lowest,” says Thomas A Kempis, and we know this to be true, especially as regards human love; for how else can we love and know its most replenishing gifts than to know it through the concrete, than to know them through those which are provided for us by our nature’s opaque existences? We do not love an idea that soars in the abstract realm of universality; at least not at first. Nay! We love our parents, we love our siblings, we love our friends, we love those who are closest to us,—and these we do love individually, palpably. And while it is also true that our love mirrors its source, this love is still enacted within definable humanity; it shines, albeit feebly with its borrowed brightness, on familiar corporeality.
To love the familiar, the homely, is our innate propensity; nurturing affection and thickness of blood, of course, fortify it more. Nature, even if it is human, responds to this most natural of compulsions compulsively. Did not Plato assure us that love is the lover’s inexorable pursuit of the beloved? And what is the beloved if not the picture created by our concrete experiences at home of beauty, of truth, of good? The beautiful and the strong, the successful and the meritorious, the intelligent and the benevolent—these people are easier to love for they are already lovable to begin with, for they represent what we wish to become. These are the pictures painted for us from home, and we pursue those who possess these. What could be more natural, indeed!
But did not Christ say that even the pagans do this? Did he not command us, and by doing so, ensure the command to be universal and eternal, to love our neighbor? This commandment compels us to look at the concrete man next to us, and to love him whoever he is, wherever he was from. This commandment necessitates us to leave the familiar, the homely, the natural; it impels us to give ourselves fully, unconditionally to the attractive and ugly, to the lovable and odious, the saint and sinner, alike; to welcome them without questions just as we ourselves were welcomed without qualifications. This commandment bids us go beyond our limited selves and enter the spiritual realm of Divine Charity where all, including us, are embraced unreservedly, despite our apparent lack and brokenness. Charity begins at home, and I think this to be true; but it is never completed there. The lowest while it is undeniably essential, is still the lowest after all. It only points us to the highest and the truth: that our love, even though it is from God, remains in need of perfecting, and this can only happen if we finally allow Him to capture us in His creative love. Charity begins at home, but it could only be completed in God—it could only be completed once we surrender ourselves to Him in humility, and recognize our need for Him to take over our lives. Only through this complete renunciation of ourselves to His grace could our love be lifted beyond nature’s compulsions and make it an instrument of Divine Charity. Then, and only then, could we begin to hope to build a family of love patterned after His.