The Rule of Charity in Your Domestic Church

As in life, we all need rules in our homes. Everything and everyone would decend into chaos without them. So, as parents, we discern the best rules and routines to establish in our family life. No doubt we come up with good ones that serve admirable purposes. But it can be easy to lose sight of the fact that there is one rule that should govern and give meaning to all others — the rule of charity.

Love. “For the greatest of these is love,” writes the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians. One of the reasons we establish rules in our households is to support the development of virtue in all its members. However, it is impossible to truly develop any other virtue without love. For as St. Paul says earlier in that same passage, though I may do any number of worthy things “but have not love, I am nothing.”

I recently came across these words of St. Vicent de Paul:

“Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity.” (Epistle 2546)

I sat with these words for a moment, contemplating their relevance to my family’s life. Most of our rules and routines at home stem from a spirit of love. In fact, because we love our children we establish rules that will move them toward truth, goodness, and beauty. But I realize that in the middle of enforcing rules and the disciplining that comes when they are broken, I can often find myself removed from (dare I say in conflict with) the loving intentions that birthed the rules from the beginning. Continue reading “The Rule of Charity in Your Domestic Church”

My Reading Challenge Pick for “Writings of an Early Church Father”

I’ve been sharing what I’m reading throughout the year for the 2017 Catholic Reading Challenge, and I’m chipping away at my list. There’s only three months left! This was a shorter one, but a powerful one… 

Category: Writings of an Early Church Father

My Pick: The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians & The Martyrdom of Polycarp

Before reading St. Polycarp of Smyrna’s epistle and the account of his martyrdom, I had been semi-familiar with his story and when he lived. But I gained some important insights on his impact as a Father of the Church after doing this reading. The book I have linked to above includes both his epistle and the account of his martyrdom by Evarestus (along with several other early Christian writings). It also provides brief biographical information on the saint, which we have due to various other early Church writings.

Polycarp’s Connection to Christ

The first thing that I found fascinating was his direct connection to the original 12 Apostles, specifically the Apostle John. We know from Irenaeus’ writings that Polycarp (who wasn’t martyred until the age of 86) was a disciple of the Apostle John and handed down the teachings of the Apostles to several generations throughout his long life. In fact, St. John the Apostle himself appointed Polycarp to his position as Bishop of Smyrna. Think about that: Jesus –> John –> Polycarp — he’s one person removed from direct communication and relationship with Christ on earth!

Polycarp’s Pastoral Words

His epistle reminds me of many of the letters of the New Testament with its pastoral style and apostolic exhortations. He clearly lived his life ready to give it up for Christ, and he encouraged his flock of believers in the same mindset. After all, early Christians basically lived their daily lives with the realization that they would most likely die at any time for their faith. Polycarp’s epistle describes St. Ignatius and other Christian prisoners on their way to be martyred in Rome: “For those chains they were wearing were the badges of saints; the diadems of men truely chosen by God and our Lord.”  Continue reading “My Reading Challenge Pick for “Writings of an Early Church Father””

Enduring to Perfection

I was recently having a conversation with my six-year-old son about sin. We were reading the Gospel account when Jesus called the Apostle Matthew from his life as a tax collector to follow him. Upon hearing the Pharisees’ murmuring against him associating with sinners, Jesus responded:

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Matt. 9:12-13)

As we were discussing the passage, my son said,  “But we aren’t supposed to hang out with sinners.” I responded, “Well, Jesus’ point was that we are all sinners in need of God’s mercy.” My thoughtful and emotive young son was visibly disturbed by this. “I’m not a sinner!” he exclaimed with a furrowed brown and tight lips. “Yes you are,” I said. “We all are. We are all sinners, and our sin has separated us from God. That is why Jesus came — to restore us to the Father by his grace. We are sinners who have been saved by God’s grace, but we have to actually acknowledge what we are without him.”

My son’s displeasure at the thought of identifying himself as a sinner is typical of our human condition, especially in the modern world. You and I struggle with the same thing. We don’t like thinking of ourselves as “sinners” or our sins as, well, sins — do we? We want to think of them as “challenges,” “less than ideal” traits, or “shortcomings.” Sin seems so…evil. Exactly. It is.

Being selfish or angry, lying, being puffed up with pride, gossiping about others, always wanting more — these things are evil. And our lives are actually inundated with them in many daily ways — great or small. But one reason that we don’t want to name them as they are is that we would then have to acknowledge that our temptation toward them is always present; and in many Christian environments we aren’t comfortable with that being the case.

We are more comfortable with the idea that Christ saving us from sin is in the past…all done. We want to live in a present Christian life that is all positive and all about our goodness in Christ. Therefore, there is a tendency to think of sinful struggles as something that we can overcome for good and be done with, moving from the “sinners” group to the “non-sinners” group.

If we are honest, we know that this isn’t theologically correct. We know that through the salvation and sanctification processes we are not removed from this fallen world or immune to sinful tendencies (that’s in heaven); but we don’t like being reminded that our sin, when committed, is still sin. We, like the Pharisees, want to call the tax collectors wrong behavior “sin,” but not our own.

Offering an alternative perspective, is wisdom from St. Francis de Sales:

“The discipline of purification can and must cease only with our life, therefore be not discouraged by infirmities; our perfection consists in struggling against them, which we cannot do unless we perceive them, neither can we conquer unless we come into collison with them. Victory does not lie in ignoring our infirmities, but in resisting them” (An Introduction to the Devout Life, Pt. 1, Ch. 5).

One reason that we are attracted to the “us” and “them” mindset is that it separates us from evil; and when we are separated from evil we don’t have to think about our own sin as sin. St. Francis highlights the danger in separating ourselves from our “infirmities” — we can’t move toward goodness, toward perfection, if we do so. We have to name that evil in us for what it is, and every time it rears its ugly head we have to call it ugly. If we don’t, we will forget it is there and never conquer it.

As we move toward heaven, we all have the potential for incredible goodness, but we will never realize it without persevering against our potential for terrible evil. In the words of Flannery O’Conner, we need to understand that “evil is not simply a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be endured.”¹ We must endure until perfected.


¹ O’Conner, Flannery. Mystery and Manners (1970). Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York: NY, p.209.

 

Copyright 2017 Jessica Ptomey