Fifth Sunday after Pentecost: meditation from Divine Intimacy
6 July 2022
by Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD
Towards the end of his life, Fr Gabriel of St Mary Magdalen OCD (1893–1953), began to compile and condense his life’s work on the interior life into a book of meditations for every day of the liturgical year. After Fr Gabriel’s death, the Discalced Carmelite nuns of the Monastery of St Joseph in Rome completed the work which would become known under the title of “Divine Intimacy”.
O Lord, teach me to live in perfect harmony with my neighbour, so that my prayers and offerings will be pleasing to You.
This Sunday could well be called the Sunday of Fraternal Charity, a virtue so necessary to preserve proper relations with our neighbour. “Be ye all of one mind,” says St Peter in his first Epistle (3:8-15), “having compassion one of another, being lovers of the brotherhood, merciful, modest, humble.” The Apostle speaks to us in a very practical and realistic way. He realises that, with our weakness and frailty, we cannot preserve peace if we have no compassion for the faults of others, if we do not know how to be kind to those who displease us, and if we cannot bear blame with humility. Anyone who pretends that in achieving a life of perfect harmony with others, he need never suffer any annoyance or displeasure, and that he need never be contradicted or upset, has very little experience of the reality of life and forgets that, far from being pure spirits, we are limited by matter; he forgets that “we are mortal, frail, and weak, bearing about our bodies like vessels of clay, a source of friction for one another” (St Augustine), even as clay jars carried in the same vehicle strike against and jostle each other. By reason of our limitations, we have mentalities, tastes, desires, and interests that differ from those of others, and thus we do not always succeed in understanding one another.
It even happens that sometimes, without wishing it and without even the shadow of a bad intention, we work against one another. The remedy for these inevitable failures, when the limitations of our nature are the cause of mutual distress, is that suggested by St Augustine: dilatentur spatia caritatis — “let more room be given to charity”. In other words, let us enlarge our hearts by greater love, in order that we may better understand and sympathise with one another. Let us likewise practise greater humility, in order to overcome the resentments of our self-love. Even if someone does act against us with ill will, we should know how to forgive him, according to the words of the Apostle:
“Not rendering evil for evil, nor railing for railing, but contrariwise, blessing … But if also you suffer anything for justice’s sake, blessed are ye … Sanctify the Lord Christ in your hearts.”
The Gospel (Mt 5:20-24) repeats and intensifies the same instruction. First of all Jesus tells us, “Unless your justice abound more than that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” This is a clear allusion to the new law, the law of love, given to us by Jesus Himself and far surpassing the simple law of justice. We cannot content ourselves, as the Pharisees did, with simply not doing harm to our neighbour; we must practice toward him a positive, fraternal charity. It is not enough “not to kill” in order to escape “the judgment”, the Master teaches, but “whosoever is angry with his brother, shall be in danger of the judgment.” Another aspect of the new law proposed by Jesus concerns our interior dispositions.
It is useless to make an exterior display of goodness if this does not proceed from a good conscience, a sincere heart. It does not suffice to avoid giving outward offence to our neighbour; we must avoid, or rather, repress our inner resentment. The Pharisees, with their materialistic interpretation of the law, had completely lost its spirit; they had forgotten that the eyes of the Lord are always upon us and that He sees our intentions as well as our acts. Anger and resentment that smoulder in our heart do not escape Him. At the same time, Jesus asks great delicacy of us in all our exterior dealings with our neighbour. He demands that we avoid not only offensive acts but even words that might hurt another. Charity and fraternal harmony meant so much to Him that He did not hesitate to tell us:
“If therefore thou offer thy gift at the altar, and there thou remember that thy brother hath anything against thee, leave there thy offering before the altar, and go first to be reconciled to thy brother.”
How much Our Lord loves us! St John Chrysostom remarks very aptly: “He does not take account of His own honour, when He requires us to love our neighbour. ‘Let My worship be interrupted,’ He says, ‘but reestablish your charity.’” Indeed, how can our prayers and sacrifices be pleasing to God when something interferes with perfect harmony between ourselves and our neighbour?
“O Jesus, as I meditated on Your divine words, I understood how imperfect was my love for my sisters in religion and that I did not love them as You do. Now I know that true charity consists in bearing all my neighbour’s defects, in not being surprised at mistakes, but in being edified at the smallest virtues. Above all else I have learned that charity must not remain shut up in the heart, for ‘No man lighteth a candle and putteth it … under a bushel; but upon a candlestick, that they who come in may see the light.’ This candle, it seems to me, O Lord, represents that charity which enlightens and gladdens not only those who are dearest to me, but likewise all those who are of the household.
“O Lord, how often it is said that the practice of charity is difficult. I should rather say that it seems difficult, for ‘The yoke of the Lord is sweet and His burden light.’ And when we submit to that yoke we at once feel its sweetness and can exclaim with the Psalmist: ‘I have run in the way of Your commandments since You have dilated my heart.’ O Jesus, ever since its sweet flame consumes me, I run with joy in the way of Your new commandment, and I desire so to run until that glorious day when with Your retinue of virgins I shall follow You through Your boundless realm, singing Your new canticle — the Canticle of Love” (T.C.J. St, 10).
“O Lord Jesus Christ, if I had no other reason to love my neighbour — not only he who loves me but even he who does not — I should resolve to do so solely because of the commandment You have given us to love one another as You have loved us. Just as You, infinite beauty, goodness and perfection, love me, full of evil, and do not reject me because of my faults, so do I, for love of You, wish to love all my brethren” (Ven John of Jesus Mary).