Christ said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (Jn 14:15). This statement sums up the essence of His message. But He wasn’t referring to a mere emotion or to the sort of syrupy, romanticized, “love” that involves no suffering or demands no sacrifice. Rather, the kind of love Christ meant is charity; the steadfast, self-giving, humble, courageous, act-of-the-will love that seeks the good of our neighbor, even if it means sacrifice or suffering on our part.
True charity involves loving others who may not be particularly likeable (much less loveable).
True charity means loving even those who don’t reciprocate that love. They may be hostile and resentful in the face of our charity. Christ calls us to love them nonetheless.
True charity is the love of God combined with the love of our neighbor for the sake of God. It is the basis of the communion of saints; the bond of charity that unites all the members of the body of Christ (Cf. Rom 12:3-6).
Each member of the body of Christ is commanded to seek the good of all the others. The following biblical passages reveal the importance of charity, one that’s expressed concretely through the corporal and spiritual works of mercy (Cf. CCC 2447):
John 13:34-35 -- “A new command-ment I give to you, that you love one another; even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
John 15:12-17 -- “This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. You are My friends if you do what I command you. . . .This I command you, to love one another.”
Notice that Christ specifically linked Simon Peter’s profession of love for Him (“Simon, do you love Me?”) with the command to “feed My sheep.” And the Lord reminds all of us that charity for one another is second in importance only to loving God (cf. Mt 22:38, Mk 12:30-31, 1 Cor 13). This law of charity is emphasized in the New Testament at every turn, especially in the form of intercessory prayer.
Galatians 6:2 -- “Bear one another’s burdens, and so you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
Romans 12:9-10 -- “Love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor. . . contribute to the needs of the saints.”
1 Corinthians 10:24 -- “No one should seek his own advantage, but that of his neighbor.”
1 Thessalonians 4:9-10 -- “On the subject of mutual charity you have no need for anyone to write you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another. . . Nevertheless, we urge you, brothers, to progress even more.”
1 Thessalonians 5:11, 14-15 -- “Encourage one another, and build one another up ... We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, cheer the fainthearted, support the weak ... always seek what is good both for each other and for all” (cf. 2 Cor 1:10-11).
Christ’s law of love is a standing command for all in His Church. It doesn’t matter whether a Christian is living here on earth or living in heavenly glory in the immediate presence of the Lord; he is still bound under Christ’s command to “love one another.” On earth we can carry this out through physical acts of charity (cf. Mt 25:31-46; Jas 2:14-17), and spiritual acts of charity, especially through intercessory prayer on behalf of others (1 Tim 2:1-4).
St. Paul exhorts Christians to pray, supplicate, petition, and intercede for all people. He emphasizes that intercessory prayer “is good and pleasing to God our savior” (1 Tim 2:1-4). Similar exhortations permeate the New Testament:
Romans 15:30-32 -- “I urge you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in the struggle by your prayers to God on my behalf.”
2 Corinthians 1:10 -- “In [Jesus] we have put our hope that He will also rescue us again, as you help us with prayer.”
Colossians 1:4, 9-10 -- “We always give thanks to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you . . . we do not cease praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding to live in a manner worthy of the Lord.”
And here’s one final thought worth pondering. St. Paul exclaimed, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God on their behalf is for salvation” (Rom 10:1), and “I remember you constantly in my prayers, night and day. I yearn to see you again” (2 Tim 1:3).
To those who argue that the saints in heaven do not pray for us, I would pose this question: In light of St. Paul’s intense desire to assist others through his prayers while on earth, is there any reason to imagine that upon entering heaven his charity and desire for others’ salvation would be quenched and that his prayers for others cease? Not at all.
The Bible’s many exhortations regarding mutual charity apply to all members of the body of Christ, including those in heaven. That’s why we ask them to pray for us (cf. 1 Tim 2:1-5).
Additional passages to study:
Matthew 5:42-46; Matthew 19:19; Mark 12:28-14; Luke 6:27-36; Romans 12:9-13; Galatians 5:9-13, 6:2; Ephesians 4:4, 32; 1 Thessalonians 3:12; 4:9-10, 18; Hebrews 3:13; 1 John 4:7-21
Related Sections in the Catechism:
CCC 1822-1829, 1965-1974, 2093-2094
Patrick Madrid is an author and public speaker. Visit his web site at www.surprisedbytruth.com