Monday, March 02, 2009

"Charity is the virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God. Charity is called the queen of the virtues because it unites man to God most perfectly and most permanently in the bonds of love. Charity is the divine friendship uniting man to God and man to fellow-man in the bonds of mutual affection.
"As we love those who are truly our friends, for their own sake and not because of any advantage to us, so through charity, we love God for His own sake and our neighbor because of God.
"Our neighbor includes all living human beings, even our enemies, the souls in purgatory, the blessed in heaven and the angels. When God gives us the infused virtue of charity, He gives us the means to make perfect acts of love, and the power to make these acts easily." (1)
St. Louise de Marillac's feast day is March 15. She was born in1591and was a contemporary of St. Vincent de Paul. Louise was inspired and directed by Vincent’s spiritual leadership. She was Vincent’s collaborator in founding the Daughters of Charity and organizing hospitals for the sick poor, asylums for the orphaned, workshops for the unemployed, championing literacy for the uneducated, and established standards for local charities.
Louise was a wife, mother, teacher, nurse, social worker and religious foundress. In each phase of her life, she exhibited great charity.Suffering was never far from Louise. During civil unrest, her two uncles who held high rank within the government were imprisoned. One was publicly executed and the other died in prison. In 1623, when illness was wasting her husband, Antoine who died in 1625, depression was overcoming Louise.
While at prayer, Louise had a vision in which she saw herself serving the poor and living the vows of religion in community. She wrote this "lumiere" on parchment and carried it on her person as a reminder that despite her difficulties, God was guiding her life. In that vision a priest appeared to her, whom she later identified as Vincent de Paul, her future confidante and collaborator in ministry.Only over a long period of time, as Vincent de Paul became more acquainted with Louise, did he come to realize that she was the answer to his prayers. She was intelligent, self-effacing and had physical strength and endurance that belied her continuing feeble health.
The missions he sent her on eventually led to four simple young women joining her. Her rented home in Paris became the training center for those accepted for the service of the sick and poor. Growth was rapid and soon there was need of a so-called rule of life, which Louise herself, under the guidance of Vincent, drew up for the Sisters of Charity of St. Vincent de Paul (though he preferred "Daughters" of Charity).
He had always been slow and prudent in his dealings with Louise and the new group. He said that he had never had any idea of starting a new community, that it was God who did everything. "Your convent," he said, "will be the house of the sick; your cell, a hired room; your chapel, the parish church; your cloister, the streets of the city or the wards of the hospital." Their dress was to be that of the peasant women. The Daughters were the first order of non-cloistered nuns. Louise de Marillac died in 1660, was canonized in 1934, and was declared patroness of social workers in 1960. (2)
St. Louise in 1655 wrote to her three Sisters of Charity in Poland, whom she called "Servants of the sick poor in Warsaw," announcing that three more sisters would be joining them. She is most solicitous on their behalf, as they are not Polish and urges the Polish Sisters to be most charitable in their dealings with the newcomers.
"Dear sisters, you have always told me that you had but one heart in your three persons. In the name of the Blessed Trinity to whom you paid honor and owe honor, I beg you to open your ranks and admit our threeSisters to this union of heart so that the three last may be indistinguishable from the three first. I assure you they are carrying out the project in a frame of mind which aims solely at pleasing God; no one is out for herself, no one wants personal satisfaction, any more than you do.
"That doesn't mean to say that at times human nature won't provide occasions of struggle, even to the most perfect, but that, as you know, test the loyalty of those who would belong entirely to God. Don't be taken by surprise then; however self may rebel, it is precisely then that our souls must rise to ever more generous heights in the practice of heroic virtue. We must straightway humble ourselves, calm our feelings, and give proof that we intend to be real Christians; thus we shall pay homage to Jesus Christ by exercising the virtues He has Himself set before us in His sacred humanity."
St. Louise further exhorts the Polish Sisters to refrain from speaking only Polish amongst themselves without explaining to the new Sisters what they are saying, thus promoting charity and kindness amongst themselves.She further urges them: "You realize these sisters' attitude towards you? They appreciate the choice God has been fit to make of you to be the corner stones of this new foundation, they believe that you should be given all the credit for it, and that God's providence has sheltered you under His wings to guide you as you go without companionship and in blind trust, having no clear knowledge of the road. These considerations, however, cause them no jealousy whatever; on the contrary, the sisters derive consolation from treading in your footsteps and look forward to finding you practising the customs and duties that God requires both of you and of themselves." (3)
Her final words of guidance to the sisters were, "Love the poor and honor them, my children, as you would honor Christ Himself." (4)
Dear St. Louise, you transformed your loss into a great gain for others, dedicating your life to complete devotion to the poor. Inspire us to follow your example, with acts of kindness, selfless generosity and love for all. For in giving of ourselves true healing will come. (5)
If I should speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have charity, I have become as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal. And if I have prophecy and know all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so as to remove mountains, yet do not have charity, I am nothing. And if I distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, yet do not have charity, it profits me nothing. Charity is patient, is kind; charity does not envy, is not pretentious, is not puffed up, is not ambitious, is not self-seeking, is not provoked; thinks no evil, does not rejoice over wickedness, but rejoices with the truth; bears with all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Corinthians 13:1-7
So there abide faith, hope and charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
I Corinthians 13:13
1. Understanding the Catholic Faith, Rev. John A. O'Brien, Ph.D., 1955, pages 102-1032. Vincentian Center for Church and
2. Ibid.
3. Letters from the Saints, arranged by a Benedictine of Stanbrook Abbey, 1964, pages 31-324. 4. Ordinary People, Extraordinary Lives, Healing and Helping (Group 4)
5. Ibid.