31 August 2010

It's All About Charity

The devil knows a good thing when he sees it. And the devil isn't just a supporting actor in a first century drama about a renegade preacher who taught people to love their enemies. The devil continues to torment those who seek earnestly to follow Christ by the way they live their lives.

When Jesus approached the man with the unclean spirit, as we hear in today's Gospel, the devil recognized him. Brute force and medical remedies have no power over the devil, as any exorcist can attest. Perfect charity, purity of heart and love of neighbor, however, are enough to frighten the devil, disarm him and send him packing.

Consider for a moment the words of 12th century monk, Hugh of St. Victor: "The devil is not afraid of us when we give alms to the poor because he himself does not own anything. Neither does he fear us when we fast because he does not take food. And even when we keep vigil at night he is not afraid because he does not sleep. But if we are united in charity, of this the devil is terrified -- and immensely so -- because he realizes that we safeguard on earth what he disdained in heaven."

As we seek to cultivate charity in our daily lives: to love our neighbors more perfectly, to be gracious and kind to those whom we find difficult company, to forgive those who have offended us, and to grow in virtue, we should not be surprised if we find that we are plagued by temptations to be discouraged from these good works. The devil does know a good thing when he sees it and, just as he recognized Jesus: "I know who you are -- the Holy One of God," he will recognize us has his followers when he sees our efforts to conform our lives to Christ -- to be like this Holy One of God. Would that our charity be so pure and so perfect that it causes the devil to shudder!

"If without charity we cannot keep the commandments, much less can we without it have all the virtues. True it is, one may have some virtue, and live some small time without offending God, though wanting in divine love . . . but imperfectly, and only for a short time, so a heart separated from charity, may indeed bring forth some acts of virtue but not for long. All virtues separated from charity are imperfect."
St. Francis de Sales

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