Love Your Neighbor
By A. A. Adams
Members of Christ
Saul of Tarsus left for Damascus to launch a persecution against the Christians. On his way a brilliant light emanating from Heaven suddenly enveloped him. Falling to the earth, he heard a voice saying: Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Who are you, Lord? he asked; and the answer came: I am Jesus Whom you persecute. (Acts 9:1-5) What is the meaning of this conversation? Paul persecutes the Christians. How can he persecute Christ who has been dead and buried for months? And yet, Paul heard and understood well: “I am Jesus whom you persecute.”
Christ and Christians—we are members of the same body, of the same Christ. So we being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members, one of another. (Rom. 12:5) We are not only united but severally responsible for one another. There are many members indeed, yet only one body. The eye cannot say to the hand: I need not thy help; nor again the head to the feet: I have no need of you. Yea, by much more, those that seem to be the more feeble members of the body, are more necessary. If one member suffer anything, all the members suffer with it; or if one member glory, all the members rejoice with it. (1 Cor. 12:20-22,26) United and mutually responsible, we should love one another.
Speaking of the Last Judgment, Our Lord congratulates the just for having given Him food and clothing and for having visited Him. Surprised, they ask Him: When have we given Thee food and clothing, when have we visited Thee? Jesus answers: Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to Me. (Matt. 25:31-46) Notice that the Lord says: “You did it to Me,” and not at all: “As if you did it to Me,” or “I deem it equivalent.” Our neighbor, very mysteriously, is Christ Himself. Christ and our neighbor constitute but one body; they are one. Our neighbor is Christ.
The echo of this truth has resounded throughout the Church’s history, sometimes in the most sublime manner. Saint Martin at the gates of Amiens shares his cloak with a beggar. He then sees Our Lord appearing to him and saying: “Martin gave Me his cloak.” Saint Elizabeth of Hungary nurses a leper; and behold, the features of this poor cripple are transformed. Instead of seeing a face corroded by this terrible disease, the saint together with the duke, her husband, behold with astonishment the divine Face of Christ smiling upon them joyfully.
Love Thy Neighbor as Thyself
Members of the same body, of which Christ is the head, we should love one another. We should love our neighbor, because God commands it specifically. “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” Likewise, because we are the children of one and the same Father; brothers, friends, members of the same Christ; redeemed by the same Precious Blood.
Saint John the Apostle spoke unceasingly of this precept. Near the end of his life, unable to walk to church, he used to be carried there. As his broken voice no longer permitted him to preach at length, he contented himself with repeating: “My little children, love one another.” The audience, tired of listening to the same refrain, murmured: “The Apostle is in his dotage; he has fallen into the mania that old age has for repetitions.” One day they asked him: “Master, why do you always repeat the same words?” He answered: “This is the precept of the Lord; if you observe it, that suffices.”
A poor paralytic lay prostrate at the street corner. Seeing a well-dressed gentleman approaching, the beggar extended his hand and asked for a coin. The stranger, much to his dismay, discovered that his pockets were empty. “Brother,” said he, “I am sorry. I would willingly give you something, but I regret to say that I have not a penny in my pocket.” The eyes of the beggar filled with tears. “Thank you, Sir,” said he, “you have given me more than money; you have called me brother. Never in my life have I heard this name addressed to me by a distinguished gentleman.”
This brotherly love was the origin of the transformations which were performed by Christianity and which assured the progress of the human race. In this doctrine lies the solution of the social question and of universal peace. “All around me,” says Father Terrien, “I hear people talking of universal brotherhood. True fraternity, that which can mold all hearts into one, is the fraternity of Christ. One Father, one Mother, one Brother, the first-born of the one and the other, by whom we are enveloped in the same love, who will reunite us as heirs to the same glory and the same eternal banquet. What more can one desire to create a world of brothers?”
The shocking contrast between doctrine and actual conduct among many Christians, profoundly affected the Bengal poet, Rabindranath Tagore, during his travel in Europe. His verdict is severe: “If you Christians lived like Christ, the whole of India would be at your feet. Jesus, Master, there is no place for Thee in Europe. Come, establish Thy home with us in Asia, in the land of Buddha. Our hearts are burdened with grief, and Thy coming would relieve them.” If we Christians only made an effort, if only we loved our neighbors as ourselves for God’s sake, the face of the earth would be transformed. As in olden days, when the followers of Christ attracted the pagans to them, so likewise today would those outside our faith who seek peace fraternize with us, and with us become members of the same body, under the guidance of one head Jesus Christ.
All the brethren and all the members of Christ are our neighbors; those who at present are members, as well as those who are called to become members. So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members of one another. (Rom. 12:5)
What comfort, therefore, to find oneself a member of a great body, of a powerful company! Through sanctifying grace, you are both members and brothers of the saints in Heaven: of the confessors, the virgins, the martyrs, the apostles, the Blessed Virgin. You are a member and a brother of the souls in purgatory, of all the souls which illumine and sanctify the world, of all the souls in the state of grace.
All who live in Christ and in whom Christ lives are neighbors. Christ lives in your superiors with His authority. He that hears you hears Me, and he that despises you despises Me and Him Who sent Me. (Luke 10:16) In obeying them you obey Christ. Such obedience is most consoling, especially when you meditate upon the words which sum up His entire hidden life: “And he was subject to them” (Luke 2:51)
Jesus lives in your fellow-beings. He is the head, and they and we are the members. He considers as done for Him, or against Him, what we do to the least of His own. Each act of fraternal charity is an act of divine charity, while to offend a neighbor is to offend Christ.
Love Your Enemies
What must we think of those in whom Jesus does not live actually? Those for instance who live in mortal sin; who are in heresy or schism; who are unbelievers, pagans, etc.? Christ pursues them with His love, wishes them to become members of His body. He invites us to help Him in this work, to effect their conversion.
Jesus lives in your enemies. Like yourselves, they are children of God, brothers, friends, members of Christ, redeemed by His divine blood. The precept is clear: Love your enemies; do good to them that hate you; and pray for them that persecute and calumniate you. (Matt. 5:44).
Are we, in our actions, members of Christ? Alas! Enmity exists, even among members of families who proclaim themselves Christians. Even brothers will avoid meeting, will refuse to speak to one another. Hatred, contempt and vengeance reign supreme. Conversations are saturated with calumnies, slander, and rash judgments. Evil is wished upon one another, or is actually done to one another. Are you members of Christ? “All this is very true,” you say, “but I have been treated so unworthily.” Have they spit in your face? Have they scourged you, crowned you with thorns? Have they crucified you? Remember that Jesus, your Brother, your head, upon whom His children have heaped all these indignities, forgave them. He found in His heart enough mercy to excuse them. Will you be less indulgent than He? It is at the foot of the cross that you must meet your enemies. It is there that you must reconsider your attitude towards them. “But, try as I may, I always experience, against my will, a certain aversion toward one who has injured me.” You must distinguish in your make-up between sentiment and willpower. This feeling of revolt in you, at the sight of one who has seriously caused you injury, is natural and implies no guilt whatever. What is required of you is that you make a serious effort to control it, that you do not welcome it, above all, that you do not act in conformity with it.
A certain person had developed a blind antipathy, one bordering upon hatred, for an old gentleman whom he met every day. One morning, in the hope of conquering himself, he endeavored to be of service to him. From that moment, they became the best of friends. Saint Therese made use of this very means with respect to a Sister whose presence annoyed her. She became so attentive to her that one day the Sister asked: “Whence comes this special affection for me?” Evidently, all this requires a certain amount of heroism, it is true, but certain it is that this effort will have its reward.
Are you angry? Is your heart filled with hatred? Are you in a mood to spit your anger in the face of one who has injured you? Are you intent upon exacting eye for eye, tooth for tooth? If so, it is expedient for you to show signs of generosity, to forgive your offender. Despite all, he continues to remain your brother, a member of one and the same body.
Two townships were on the point of settling their differences in court. For years they had been at loggerheads. Of course each pretended to be in the right. For a last time the principals of both sides met and again expressed their grievances. Suddenly an old country gentleman rose and said: “My friends, I have always endeavored to settle your controversies, but in vain. Today we are going to arrive at some decision. Our forefathers always opened a meeting with a prayer. Let us do likewise. Recite with me the Our Father.” And he began. Slowly and distinctly he pronounced the words: “And forgive us our trespasses;” and then with great emphasis: “As we forgive those who trespass against us.” He paused for a moment. Moved by these words, some of the attendants exclaimed: “Yes, he is right. We should forgive those who have trespassed against us.” And the others repeated: “Yes, we will forgive and forget.” The two parties joined hands.
“In our village,” writes a Chinese missionary, “eight members of a family were put to death one day in a great massacre. Two old men, absent at the time, were the only survivors. When the storm subsided, the two returned to their home only to find it empty. One of the two, the old grandfather, appeared to have lost his mind. He was seen running about the street, in a frenzy, in search of his children. The shock had been such, that his nerves remained affected to the end of his life. What caused him to shudder and rage was the fact that the assassin was one of his former pupils, whom he loved as one of his own, and to whom he had granted many favors. Upon learning that the Christians had returned, the assassin had fled, realizing that the first one to see him would most assuredly lynch him. Five months later, as I visited the village, a Christian instructor who was also the chief of the Christian settlement, came to see me. ‘Father, I bring you bad news: the assassin wishes to be admitted to the village. I can do nothing but refuse. Still, we have not the right to prevent him; after all, we cannot dream of vengeance. One is either a Christian or he is not. I will notify the Christian families, and I feel that all will forgive him, But, poor old Wang! What about him? How will he stand the shock? Therefore, what can be done? Father, you must persuade him to forgive!’ I thereupon summoned the good old man called Wang. ‘My friend,’ I said, ‘you must be noble-minded. You can boast of many saints amongst your ancestors; you must show that you are worthy of them.’ ‘What do you mean, Father?’ ‘If the murderer of your family, my friend, were to return to this village, and if you were to meet him, what would you do?’ ‘I would jump at his throat,’ replied the old man. And he meant it. Seizing his hands, I continued: ‘We are Christians or we are not. As a Christian you must do nothing of the kind.’ The old man sobbed a moment, hesitated and, brushing aside a tear, answered: ‘Go, Father, and admit him.’ As I gazed at him silently, he added: ‘Yes, yes; tell him to return; you shall see that I am a real Christian.’ During the evening the Christians were grouped around me as usual in the teacher’s yard. We chatted together, drinking tea and smoking long pipes. It was the day’s moment of relaxation. Yet the atmosphere appeared heavy. No one had the courage to speak. Wang was near me, pale and trembling. The others, ostensibly nervous, sat in a semi-circle before me. The assassin was on his way, and all were aware of it. Suddenly the circle opened. In the distance, under the dim lights of the lanterns, I saw the assassin advancing, head bowed low, his step heavy, as if weighted down by the curses of all these men. He came directly to me and knelt. A deep silence ensued. My throat clogged up, my eyes filled. With a trembling voice I said: ‘Friend, behold the difference: if we had mutilated and slain your family, and you returned victorious, what would you do? There was a moment of suspense, and then— perfect silence. The old man Wang had risen to his feet. He stooped toward the murderer of his loved ones; with trembling hands he helped him to rise, and before the awe-stricken Christians he embraced him. Two months later, the assassin called me: ‘Father,’ he said, ‘in the past, I did not understand your religion. Now my eyes are open. I have certainly obtained forgiveness. I realize that I am a poor miserable wretch. But may I not become a Christian?’ You may well imagine my answer. He thereupon asked me: ‘Father, I wish to propose an impossible thing; I want the good old Wang to be my godfather at baptism.’ ‘My friend,’ I replied, ‘I prefer that you request this favor of him yourself.’ Some time later, Wang who was henceforth without posterity, received for his spiritual son the assassin of his entire family.”