Have we ever considered how we employ and deploy the virtue of charity in real-life situations? Let’s rephrase that a bit to make it more familiar, replace charity with the word love after all they mean the same thing essentially. Now, all of us are familiar with love, saddled both with good memories and nightmares about it. We have all experienced it countless times in countless ways. We know it inside out and sideways. Love runs the entire gamut of our human experience. We show love for God, our parents, our sweethearts, our children (bless their souls), our relatives, our friendly neighbors, even our cats and dogs, and even inanimate things like the shiny red car in the garage. No doubt we have chests of lovey experiences that can fill a room.
However, can we with some certitude build a hierarchy of our loves so we can readily determine which subjects of our loves deserve more loving than the others, apart from the ready surety that definitely people deserve more love than things, or pets? Thus that same expensive shiny car or your multi-fangled smartphone, smarter than your blessed offspring, rates low in the totem pole of charity.
Are we even aware that we have one? Don’t we just rate our loves uncritically based on some preconceived notions handed down to us from one generation to another? Anyway, let’s test how well yours rate in the scheme of things. Let me throw this in. Who should we love more our neighbor or ourselves? Or what about this. Who gets the ribbon your wife or your beloved parents? This is good because growing up I had neighbors who castigated their wives when the latter were at odds with their live-in parents. The wives were curtly dismissed with the threat that while wives can be replaced any time parents cannot be or are irreplaceable.
Anyway if we follow Christian doctrine, or say teachings as assiduously formulated by church authorities like Thomas Aquinas that hierarchy ought to be built this way.
First, it is the virtue of Charity (one among 3 theological virtues, the other 2 being Faith and Hope) that leads man to love his God more than he loves himself. The reason for this primacy being that God being the source of all love and goodness deserves the ultimate love that has no equal. And being a jealous lover, He abhors competition.
And because of man’s love for God, he then is conscripted to love everything else in the same way and order that God loves them.
Thus, man must love himself more than his neighbor because he must love his share of divine goodness emanating from the Ultimate Source more than that of his neighbor.
True, with regard to his own body or any fleeting material pleasure or attachment, his love for his neighbor should take precedence.
Man will also love some men more than others because of their more significant roles in his own life. Thus, friends and relatives rate more than strangers who do not share common goals of salvation with him.
Man must also learn to love his children more than his parents because the former are more closely fused to him. He is an integral part of them as they are integrally part of him. That man’s parents stand on a different level. While he is part of his parents, they are not part of him.
He will love his wife more than his parents because in marriage he becomes one with her. Biblical passages can attest to that. And remember man must love himself more than others.
And lastly for that same reason, man will love more those for whom he does good, over those who do good for him. Those who he does good are loved more because that love is the effect of that man’s goodness and he must love himself more than anything else.
And if perchance we find ourselves experiencing eternal bliss in heaven, there too will have a hierarchy of charity. And the order above may also hold, though with some modifications with regard to other men. In heaven all those saved will conform perfectly to God’s will, though there will be those who will conform more or better than others. And since God loves more those who conform better to his will, man therefore will love more those better than him.
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