[Keywords: salvation, saved, fulfilled, paid, judged, judgement, Jesus Christ, Bible, Gospel, 1Peter 4:8, treasures in heaven]
Charity covereth a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8)
To those who have committed many and great sins and are apprehensive of the judgement that may be awaiting them when death comes [Hebrews 9:27], there is much consolation to be found in the words of St Peter. After telling us to “be prudent and watch in prayers,” he goes on to say, “but above all things have a constant mutual charity among yourselves, for charity covereth a multitude of sins. The Apostle justly lays much emphasis on this virtue of charity, because he knew how His Divine Master had placed it first as the distinguishing mark of His true disciples. St John too and St Paul in their epistles are constantly urging us to the practice of the same virtue.
Charity is the distinguishing mark of Jesus Christ’s true disciples
However evil our past lives have been, there is no sincere Catholic Christian who cannot by the constant and daily exercise of charity to his neighbour relieve himself of the load of sins that oppresses him; while at the same time he will be laying up great merit in heaven [Matthew 6:19-20; Mt 5:11, 12; Mt 10:42; Mt 16:27; 1Cor 3:8; 2Tim 4:8]. This charity must be a supernatural one, done out of a love of God, because every man is seen as the image of God, and because too it is understood that, in the words of Our Lord, what is done to the least of His brethren is done unto Him [Matthew 25:37-40; 45]. It is not necessary that this should always be explicitly recalled but it must be, as it were, at the back of our minds and be the inner reason that actuates our conduct.
It starts with our many uncharitable thoughts
Now there is no day in the year when we have not many opportunities of showing charity to those about us. And first let us begin with our thoughts. We must of course exclude all uncharitable thoughts.
There are many people who are not naturally attractive: they may be in some ways repulsive and act and speak in a way that repels us. We are not asked to like such people, but liking is not the same thing as charity which asks us not to dwell upon their faults, much less to make them the subject of unkindly criticism, but in spite of their faults to wish them well and to be ready, if necessity arises, to give them what help we can.
We make a practice of thinking of the good qualities in others
We can make a practice too of thinking of the good qualities there are in others and of always putting the best interpretations on their actions. But we shall not advance very far in our charity if we do not think how we can help others and do some little service for them. It should be a matter of some distress to us if in the course of the day we have not done something, how ever small it may be, on behalf of another. There are so many little services we can render, if only we take the trouble to think about them. We must be on the alert for opportunities and seize and act upon them at once.
Going out of our way and our habits to consider others’ personalities
But charitable thinking consists, too, in considering the characters, dispositions and temperaments of those with whom we are brought in contact. There is the very sensitive individual to whom what is meant to be a joke will be as a wounding remark. There is another who, conscious of his social or intellectual inferiority, will be deeply hurt if we markedly ignore his presence and pass him over when he is one of the company. There is that shy man who retires into the background but who will be the happier if we approach and draw him out.
Activating a habit of charitable thinking which, in turn, leads to charitable acts
If we consider these and other cases our charitable thinking will become more active and lead to many charitable acts. We may summarise it all by these four simple lines:
If you your lips would keep from slips
Five things observe with care,
To whom you speak, of whom you speak,
And How, and When, and Where.
It is part of our charity to others to critically examine oneself regularly
But it is part of our charity to others to think of ourselves; that is, to see in ourselves the faults that may be an annoyance and cause pain to others; and having such faults laid bare, helped at times by the frank criticism of those who know us well, we should endeavour at once to get rid of them.
We may become aware that we make ourselves a daily nuisance by the noise we create by banging doors, shouting or talking unnecessarily loudly, announcing our comings and goings by a continuous turmoil, quite oblivious of those who are reading or studying, or who perhaps are suffering from a bad headache. Or again, we make ourselves offensive by our bad table manners, taking our soup, for instance, in such a way that (as an old joke says) the orchestra – if there be one – cannot be heard. Or yet again, we may be of a combative, argumentative, dogmatizing disposition that makes conversation with others difficult and unpleasant for them.
Of course, we have all got our faults and the greatest mistake we can make is to imagine that we have none. It will be charitable thinking to reflect upon ourselves, to take ourselves to book and find out – and here we will often be readily helped by others – just what our faults are, with a view to correcting them.
Charitable works with words
In our words alone there is a large sphere for the exercise of charity. To say a word of sympathy to one who is in any way suffering: to give praise at another’s success: to encourage a man who has met with a temporary defeat: to defend and excuse some one who is meeting nothing but condemnation and abuse from others – in some or other of these ways, hardly a day passes when we may not show the charity “that covereth a multitude of sins”. A kind word, spoken tactfully and at the right time, may lead eventually to the very salvation of the soul of another, and only God may know what a great work we have thereby accomplished.
Physical acts of charity
From words we naturally go on to acts of charity. These acts will often be of a comparatively trifling character, for the simple reason that the opportunity of doing a great act of charity does not occur every day. To take a person’s place in some work to which he is committed, so that he may get an hour off to rest or recreate himself: to let another have the pleasantest place in a game in which you and he are engaged: to let your friend have the first reading of a new book in which you are both interested: to volunteer to do a job for another that will save him trouble and time – instances and examples of this sort could be indefinitely multiplied; and everyone intent upon exercising charity can easily discover them for himself.
But the point is that any one so occupied day after day is not only practising virtue, but he will be ready to carry out a great act of charity when the opportunity presents itself. Most of us no doubt have read The Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, or we have seen the dramatised version of it in the well-known play The Only Way. We may remember how Sidney Carton, after a life of drink and vice, redeemed his years of profligacy and sin by sacrificing his own life on the scaffold that he might secure the happiness of two others.
“The Only Way”
He was one who despite his many faults and sins was a charitable man at heart, and who, we may suppose, was continually showing kindness to others during his chequered career. Though Sidney Carton is only a figure of fiction, we may find the like of him in real life where there are those who are every day showing consideration and charity for others, and, whatever be their past misdeeds, their love of others for the love of God will “cover the multitude of their sins”. These are they who one day may be given the opportunity of making the complete sacrifice of self and will not fail, thereby gaining entire remission of their sins and a ready entrance to the glory of heaven. “Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). And it gives us joy and consolation to think how many gallant souls, who during life could hardly be numbered among the saints, went to their deaths to secure safety for those who were near and dear to them.
Greater charity than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends (Jn 15:13)
In connection with this whole matter of charity, I may quote here a paragraph from an author whose books have gained a deserved popularity. He writes:
Though natural likings should normally be encouraged, it would be quite wrong to think that the way to become charitable is to sit trying to manufacture affectionate feelings. Some people are ‘cold’ by temperament; that may be a misfortune for them, but it is no more a sin that having a bad digestion is sin; and it does not cut them out from the chance, or excuse them from the duty, of learning charity. The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Don’t waste time bothering whether you ‘love’ your neighbour; act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him*.
Self-love is the cause of our uncharitableness
Self-love is the cause of our uncharitableness, as it is the cause of all our other sins. It is putting the finite creature [ourselves] before the Infinite Creator [God].
If we are constantly engaged in showing charity to others, who are all seen in God [making good works for love of God the very greatest priority, 24/7], self-love becomes gradually eliminated and we experience ever more and more consolation in the thought that however bad and worthless we have been in the past, “charity covereth a multitude of sins.”
*Christian Behaviour, by C.S.Lewis, p.48
– From: Lift Up Your Hearts, Christopher J. Wilmot, S.J., The Catholic Book Club, London, 1949