The Mystery of the Visitation is most often identified in Rosary meditational books with the virtue of charity, and rightly so. After the Annunciation, Mary journeys “with haste” to visit her cousin Elizabeth, who is found to be miraculously with child in her old age, and this Visitation of Mary is rightly seen as an act which expresses a deep “love of neighbor” proceeding naturally from her love of God. But there is much more to be explored here – truths about both God and man which penetrate to the absolute foundation of man’s salvation and sanctification.
Holy Scripture describes the scene thus:
“And it came to pass, that when Elizabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the infant leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost; And she cried out with a loud voice, and said: Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in my ears, the infant in my womb leaped for joy. And blessed art thou that hast believed, because those things shall be accomplished that were spoken to thee by the Lord.” (Luke 1: 41-45).
We are here dealing with supernatural communications between four persons – Jesus, Mary, Elizabeth, and John. The voice of Mary, carrying Jesus within her womb, sounds in the ears of Elizabeth, and the six month old child in her womb leaps for joy. As pointed out by St. Augustine, a normal child in the womb will kick or make some other natural movements, but Elizabeth’s child “leaps for joy” – something unheard of under natural circumstances. It is a supernatural occurrence, almost certainly accompanied by John receiving the Holy Spirit for his sanctification. And immediately Elizabeth herself is “filled with the Holy Ghost”, and knows that Mary has received a visitation from God, has conceived a child in her womb, and that this child “shall be called the Son of God.” And all the while, at the center of this infusion of supernatural grace, life and friendship, is the tiny infant Jesus, only a few days since His miraculous conception, the source of it all. This scene presents to us the most magnificent image here on earth of what will be the supernatural communication and friendship between God and man in Heaven. We here encounter the depths of the meaning of Charity.
The Catholic Truth concerning the nature of Charity is almost certainly the least understood and most distorted concept in all of modern Catholic thinking. The word “charity” is used for everything from describing a Church Bazaar selling baked goods and other items for some “charitable” cause, to a feeling of compassion, acceptance, and inclusiveness for those living in mortal sin. Its only possible competitor as a word in possession of such widespread confusion and distortion of meanings is the word “love” itself. It is astonishing to seriously consider the extent and ramifications of our use of the word love. I love my wife and children, I love to fish, I love pizza, I love my new hat. The lesbian loves her partner, the sadist loves to see people suffer, the ISIS soldier loves to kill Christians. And in the next moment our conversation turns a corner and we find ourselves speaking of loving God, or we equate the word with the very Being of God Himself. The only thing that would seem to prevent the word charity being used in similar fashion is that it cannot be converted to a verb. And to add to the confusion, these two words – love and charity – are often used interchangeably. Thus we speak of “the Love of God”, or the “Charity of God”. Obviously, much is in need of clarification if we are not to be deceived in the use of these terms.
Fortunately, there is no concept used in Catholic thought that is more precisely defined than “Charity”. Moreover, the possession of what this term signifies is absolutely essential to our salvation: God is charity: and he that abideth in charity, abideth in God, and God in him.” (1 John 4: 16). Nothing should be of more immediate concern to us, therefore, than coming to a very precise understanding of the exact meaning of this concept and term.
St. Thomas defines charity as “the friendship of man for God”. (ST, II-II, Q.1, A.1). At first, this might seem to us a rather dull definition. We tend to think of friendship as something less than the highest love. This is not true of the friendship between God and man. St. Thomas writes:
“It is written (John 15:15): I will not now call you servants…but My friends. Now this was said to them by reason of nothing else than charity. Therefore charity is friendship.” (Ibid).
We think back to the exchange happening between the infant Jesus, Mary, Elizabeth, and John the Baptist during the Mystery of the Visitation, and the concept and reality of supernatural friendship should cause our souls to leap with joy, as it did John the Baptist within the womb of Elizabeth.
To read carefully the entirety of John 15 is to see the nature of this friendship revealed in depth. It entails the elevation of man to the state of fully abiding in the love and truth of God. To raise man to this friendship is the reason why Christ sacrificed Himself on the Cross: “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). In the light of this teaching to be found in this chapter of John, the concept of friendship takes on a whole new depth of meaning. It reaches to the greatest depths of God’s love for man. When man responds through conversion, it establishes that state in the individual soul which we term “living in the state of sanctifying grace”. In Thomas’ words, “Charity is the life of the soul, even as the soul is the life of the body.” (Ibid, A.2).
But in this life, charity is not a solitary thing. There are many who think that all that really matters in the Christian life is charity or love. They are fond of quoting St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 to the effect that “now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.” They are right to assert that both faith and hope will cease in Heaven, simply because faith will be fulfilled in the direct Vision of the Essence of God, and Hope will be fulfilled in the possession of God. But they neglect to understand that in this life the absolute pr-requisite for being in the state of Charity, and for being able to love God and their fellow man with the virtue of charity, is the possession of Faith. Elizabeth proclaims to Mary: “Blessed art thou that hast believed.” Mary was blessed by God to become the Mother of God because she believed. St. Paul flatly states: “But without faith it is impossible to please God”. Therefore, the soul that does not possess faith, cannot possess supernatural charity, is not in the state of friendship with God, and is spiritually dead.
There is another side to this coin. Just as there cannot exist supernatural charity in this life without faith, so faith without charity is a dead faith. In order to understand this further, we must know something about the relationship between love and charity.
St. Thomas defines love as an “appetency [willing or desiring] for the good [or what is perceived as being good]. As we have already seen, the word “love” can therefore have as many applications as things which are seen or believed to be “good”. We might, in fact, loosely say that the number of “loves” in this world is almost infinite. One can even love things that are objectively evil, since such things can mistakenly be seen as good.
But there is one place where “Charity” and “Love” meet and can be identified with one another. Charity can be identified with the supreme Love which seeks God in all things, and it can of course also be identified with the Love of God which wills man’s ultimate happiness in union with God. We must also know, therefore, that charity is not something which stops at God, but also extends to our neighbor. Thomas writes,
“Now the aspect under which our neighbor is to be loved, is God, since what we ought to love in our neighbor is that he may be in God. Hence it is clear that it is specifically the same act whereby we love God, and whereby we love our neighbor. Consequently the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor.” (II-II, Q.25, A.1).
It is at this point that charity and love can be seen as identical. Charity is constituted as loving God above and in all things, and all things in God. It is also here, therefore, that our language concerning Christian love of our neighbor becomes fully clarified. If, for instance, we examine a Greek-English concordance of the New Testament, we will find that the Greek word that is used for this love of our neighbor is the same as the word for charity. Agapaō is employed for the verb form, to love; and agapē is used for the noun charity, and this is defined as that specific form of love which is friendship. All true love of our neighbor therefore becomes identified with that virtue of charity which seeks his or her friendship totally established in God.
Such is the image we bear in our minds and hearts when we picture the embrace of Mary and Elizabeth.
And the fruit of this act of charity was the sanctification of John the Baptist. It is in fact John the Baptist whose life and teachings may serve to cleanse us of all false notions of charity. He did not rest but in the martyrdom which sought the conversion of all persons out of sin and into the freedom and friendship of Christ.
Charity is a supernatural virtue which cannot abide with the darkness of either serious error or mortal sin. Moreover, we cannot speak of exercising charity towards our neighbors unless our primary love is expressed in the effort “that he may be in God.” Towards all those living in the darkness of unbelief or serious error this necessitates our working with passionate minds and hearts to convert them to the Catholic Faith. To those living in serious sin it requires our working for their moral conversion. We are friends with neither God nor our neighbor if we ignore, or are silent, in regard to this mandate from Christ. The fruit of the Visitation is the sanctification of John the Baptist as Our Lord’s precursor, and no man ever waged a war more fiercely against sin or more vehemently demanded the conversion of all men to Christ and to the Catholic Faith. The fact that such vehemence for the conversion of souls is so little evidenced among contemporary Catholics, especially among the hierarchy, is a powerful witness to the loss of real charity within the Church: “And because iniquity hath abounded, the charity of many shall grow cold.” (Mt. 24: 12).
We are here, therefore, also led into the heart of the truly Catholic understanding of the concept of Mercy. It is a very common error today to equate charity with a universal mercy which is inclusive towards all sorts of very grave sins. It is in fact the concept of mercy which is used to justify the reception of Holy Communion by those who are living in such grave sins.
Again, it is well that we turn to St. Thomas for clarification on this issue.
Posing the question as to “Whether Mercy Is the Greatest of Virtues” (II-II, Q.30, A.4), Thomas offers the following conclusion: “The Apostle after saying (Col. Iii, 12): Put ye on…as the elect of God…the bowels of mercy, etc., adds (verse 14): Above all things have charity. Therefore mercy is not the greatest of virtues.”
In accord with the teaching of St. Thomas, we must carefully distinguish mercy as it is proper to God, from that which is proper to man. Mercy can only be considered the greatest of virtues as it is applied to God Who is “greater than all others, surpassed by none and excelling all”. God’s mercy in creating angels and men from nothingness, and his further act of calling them to share in the inner life of the Godhead, can therefore be seen in a light which views mercy as His supreme attribute. This, according to Thomas, is not true for man, “since for him that has anyone above him it is better to be united to that which is above than to supply the defect of that which is beneath. Hence, as regards man who has God above him, charity which unites him to God, is greater than mercy…”
And, Thomas concludes:
“The sum total of the Christian religion consists in mercy, as regards external works: but the inward love of charity whereby we are united to God preponderates over both love and mercy for our neighbor.”
In other words, the virtue of mercy must be subjected to the demand of charity which seeks that all men be established in the Truth of God; and this, in turn, absolutely necessitates that mercy may never be used as an excuse to violate or contradict the truths of our Faith, from which charity must always proceed. It is here, then, that we return full-circle to the humility, poverty of spirit, and fear of the Lord which we examined in The First Joyful Mystery: The Annunciation. We come to rest in Mary’s Fiat, by which the life of Charity became possible for all men who choose to follow the Truth of Jesus Christ in humility, and through which Mary became not only the Mother of God but also the Mother of all the sons and daughters of God who come to rest in the humility and meekness of Her Son:
“Take up my yoke upon you, and learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is sweet and my burden light. (Mt. 11: 29-30).
To refuse this invitation is sheer madness. Because of this refusal the world, and those who seek to make friendship with the world, face judgment:
“And this is the judgment: because the light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than the light: for their works were evil. For every one that doth evil hateth the light, and cometh not to the light, that his works may not be reproved. (John 3: 19-20).
To encourage, bless, or be inclusive towards such madness in the name of love, charity, or mercy is to do the work of Satan for the ruin of souls.
*Please pray every Rosary to include the intention: For the Purification of the Church. Also please have your Pastor offer a Mass for this intention, and ask him to promote the Rosary to the Interior: For the Purification of the Church on Feb 2, 2019.