"And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity."—I. Cor. xiii, 13.
The supernatural virtue of charity renders us capable of loving God in a worthy and meritorious manner and of loving that which God loves.
As the child arrives at the age of discretion, and obtains the right use of reason, he is obliged to practise these virtues, and thus I strengthen his soul and grow in grace.
We are obliged to awaken frequently faith, hope, and charity towards God and our neighbor, in a practical manner. By the possession, practise and application of these three divine virtues we attain to Christian perfection. The more we learn to know these virtues, the more zealous we shall be in practising them, the more earnestly we shall strive for their increase, the more incessantly shall we pray for them.
Let us, therefore, take these three divine virtues for the subject of our consideration.
I. Faith is the first of the three divine virtues; it is the foundation of the other virtues. Without faith in God, in His revelations and promises, there can be no Christian hope, no Christian charity. For this reason faith is the foundation of virtuous living: Christian faith is a virtue infused by God into our souls by which we are enabled to believe firmly all that which God has revealed and which the infallible Catholic Church proposes for our belief.
An act of faith requires the use of the understanding and the use of the will. The mysteries surpass our natural understanding; they are, furthermore, to be believed in a supernatural manner, and we require, therefore, the supernatural light of faith, added to the natural light of our understanding, and we require also that our natural willpower be strengthened by the supernatural power of grace. This light and this power we receive in Baptism. The supernatural light of faith qualifies us to understand that the truths revealed by God are divine.
In order to believe it does not suffice to know the divine truths as the Church teaches them, we must also, of our own free will, assent to them, and acknowledge as divine truths even those mysteries which surpass our human understanding. To that extent faith is a matter of the will. God, through the light and the power of the grace of faith, comes to the assistance of our reason and will, in order that we may confidently submit both to divine revelation, that is, to God. In order that the infused virtue of faith may be meritorious for us, we must co-operate with grace by readily submitting our understanding and our will to divine revelation. Then this virtue of faith will not only be an infused one but, also, will be an acquired one and thus become a meritorious virtue. This actual and acquired virtue is for every adult the first condition of salvation. Still the acceptance of the divine doctrine is alone not sufficient for salvation. We must live in accordance with our faith; we must do good and shun evil. Such is the teaching of faith. "He truly believes who practises what believes," says St. Gregory, and St. James tells us that "Faith without works is a dead faith and avails nothing to salvation." A living faith is the first condition and the beginning of salvation. Eternal happiness consists, as we are aware, in the vision of God. The living faith is a beginning of this vision. We know God through the Christian faith, but only as in a mirror. "Now I know in part: but then I shall know even as I am known" (I. Cor. xiii, 12).
II. The second of the divine virtues is hope. Christian hope is a virtue infused into our souls by which we confidently expect of God everything which He has promised us through the merits of Christ. God has promised us eternal happiness, also all things which we stand in need of, and that are profitable for us in our endeavor to attain eternal happiness. Jesus has merited these for us, and God has promised them to us for the sake of the merits of Jesus Christ. And because God has promised them to us we must confidently expect and hope for them, because God is omnipotent, merciful and faithful to His promises.
This Christian confidence in God is bestowed by the virtue of hope, infused into our souls at Baptism. We must frequently exercise it in order to make it conducive to salvation.
The virtue of hope is based upon the virtue of faith. Faith informs us of the promises of God, and that He is all-powerful and faithful in fulfilling His promises. Without faith Christian hope would not be possible. This the Apostle Paul teaches in his Epistle to the Corinthians, in plain words: "Faith," he writes, "is the substance of things hoped for" (Heb. xi, i). Hope is really, therefore, an active faith in the mercy and generosity of God. Christian hope is just as necessary for salvation as faith. "For we are saved by hope." Thus the Apostle writes in the Epistle to the Romans (Rom. viii, 24). Hence, when we lose hope we forfeit our salvation.
Christian hope is in part desire, in part confidence. It is a lively desire for eternal happiness, for the possession of God and for the means which aid us in gaining salvation. It contains in itself a heartfelt desire for forgiveness of sins, and for liberation from the punishment due to sins. It includes an ardent longing for a virtuous Christian life. It is that hunger and thirst for justice of which Christ speaks in the eight Beatitudes. As God is the supreme good, combining every other good, so our desire for the blessed possession of God must be the sincerest, indeed, the sole, desire of our hearts. All other things we may desire only on God's account, and only in so far as they are the means to help us to the possession of God. Whoever experiences this desire will zealously pray for all things; he will be a man of prayer.
Christian hope is not only desire, but also confidence. God has promised us forgiveness of our sins and the grace to do the good that is required of us. He has promised us after a Christian life the eternal happiness of heaven. He is ready to fulfil His promises. The fulfillment of the divine promise depends, however, upon our own co-operation, upon our sincere good-will, upon our co-operation with grace. Our confidence must, therefore, never become presumption. The Apostle admonishes us to work out our salvation in fear and trembling. St. Francis de Sales calls confidence in God and distrust in ourselves the two balancing poles by the help of which we are enabled to keep our equilibrium. To distrust ourselves, and to have the fullest trust in God, this is the essence of Christian hope.
Christian hope is an essential condition for eternal happiness. By hope we anticipate life eternal. It is to us a pledge and a foretaste, and when we shall pass into eternity with this living hope, our hope will be transformed into possession of that which we have hoped for the possession of God, the supreme good.
III. Charity, the third of the divine virtues, is the virtue infused by God into our souls which enables us to love God above all things, and for His sake to love our neighbor as ourselves. That such divine charity surpasses human power is quite evident. It is inseparably united to sanctifying grace. He who possesses sanctifying grace possesses also the virtue of divine charity. He who loses sanctifying grace through mortal sin, loses also divine charity. The virtue of charity is a participation in the divine charity with which God loves us. It is a divine commandment that we must love God with our whole heart, with our whole soul, with our whole strength, and that we must love our neighbor as ourselves, for God's sake. To give oneself wholly to God, to prefer Him to all things, rather lose all things than offend Him, to seek to accomplish His holy will in all things, to observe His commandments, to offer up to God every thought, word, and deed, to work and suffer for God, to live and die for God, this is the true love of God.
"He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them; he it is that loveth me." Thus speaks the Son of God (John xiv, 21). To love God in this manner is made possible for us by the divine virtue of charity, received in Baptism. We may, however, co-operate with it and so fulfil God's commandments. Only in this manner does the infused virtue become an acquired and meritorious virtue. The Christian virtue of charity is the greatest of all virtues. It presupposes faith and hope because we must believe and hope in God before we can love Him: charity gives life to faith and hope. Without charity, faith and hope are dead and avail not for salvation. Who so loves not remains in death. Charity is not merely the greatest of all virtues, but it contains all Christian virtues; it is the essence of the Christian life. Through Christian faith we participate in the divine knowledge, through hope in the divine power, and through charity we participate in the divine justice and sanctity. Christian charity renders us holy, as the heavenly Father is holy, and perfect as the Father in heaven is perfect. It is charity which here on earth unites us with God. "He who abides in charity abides in God and God in him." It is a virtue which continues for all eternity, when faith has become the vision, and hope the possession, of God.
The love of God is inseparably united to the love of our neighbor; for, as St. Augustine says, there are two commandments but only one charity, because there is no other charity with which we love our neighbor than that with which we love God. Who so says that he loves God, but does not love his neighbor, in him there is no divine charity.
We have seen, therefore, how the three divine virtues are the foundation of the Christian life, and that their practise constitutes Christian life. The true worship of God consists in practising these virtues which, at the same time, are the sole way to eternal bliss. Progress in the Christian life keeps pace with the activity of these
virtues. This increase of virtue is, likewise, a gracious gift of God. We are ever obliged to co-operate with grace. We must strive for the increase of our faith, hope, and charity, by frequently practising
these virtues, by the worthy reception of the holy Sacraments, by attentively contemplating the divine truths and, especially, by humble and heartfelt prayer.
How feeble, indeed, is our faith, how wavering our hope, how insufficient our love of God and our neighbor. They need the strengthening grace of God.
To pray rightly, and to be worthy of being heard, we must awaken these fundamental virtues. Therefore, at the beginning of the Rosary we say devoutly one Our Father and three Hail Marys to ask God for an increase of these virtues. Because faith, hope, and charity should be both the basis and the fruit of the Rosary. Amen.
From - THE EXCELLENCE OF THE ROSARY - CONFERENCES FOR DEVOTIONS IN HONOR OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN BY
REV. M. J. FRINGS
REMIGIUS LAFORT, D.D.
JOHN CARDINAL FARLEY
Archbishop of New York
NEW YORK, September 19, 1912