A very simple definition of Charity is this, just three words, friendship with God. Charity is friendship with God. And if this is our #1 friendship then it should influence every single aspect of our life. As Christians this Divine Friendship, this friendship with God, was infused into our souls as the water was being poured over us at Baptism. As we grew in size and strength and maturity this friendship also grew (I hope). It grew with the help, guidance, example, and teaching of our Church, our godparents, and our parents especially. This Divine Friendship, this Charity is also strengthened and sustained with the Sacraments and prayer. Prayer keeps us close, prayer a conversation between friends, keeps us close to His Sacred Heart. And today Jesus gives us the perfect prayer, a prayer to keep us close to our Father.
The very first word is Father. Jesus invites us to share in that deep intimacy of his own relationship with the Father, a relationship that he has described as merciful, giving, attentive to our needs, and forgiving. To call God Father expresses a deep family bond, not to be taken lightly. He is someone we can trust.
Hallowed be your name. Graced by God a mere mortal can hold God’s name in reverence. We can speak His name! We are able to say with conviction, “Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God of Power and Might!” We are also asking for our Lord’s assistance in not profaning his Good name with our life and our actions, may my life reflect only His Holiness.
Your kingdom come. With this petition we pray that God’s kingdom, and not Satan’s kingdom, rule our own life. Let me know your will Father and give me the grace to do it.
Give us each day our daily bread. This is a prayer made with confidence in the Father, that all of life’s basic needs may be met. It’s also a prayer for the Eucharist, our daily food for the journey to the Kingdom.
Forgive us our sins, and there is a reason attached to it, for we ourselves forgive everyone in debt to us. This is a petition asking for forgiveness, but also a constant reminder to forgive everyone.
And finally, do not subject us to the final test. We ask the Father for protection from the evil one and for strength to bear our trials and to resist temptations. Give me your strength and grace Father. Without you I can do nothing, Father!
I want to talk about a saint who lived in the 16th and 17th centuries, a saint who understood and lived this friendship with God, this Charity, although it took time to develop and mature. His name is St. Francis de Sales, he’s the author of the popular book Introduction to the Devout Life. Francis was born in 1567 and very early on he vowed to become a priest which was much against his parent’s wishes. They wanted him to become a lawyer. So at the age of 14 they sent him to the university to study law. Francis still hoped to become a priest but he followed his parent’s wishes and studied law. It was also at this time while still a teenager that Francis experienced a severe temptation to not trust in God’s offered friendship, love and mercy. He was always filled with worry and anxiety. So much so that he prayed every day to be freed of this terrible burden and he prayed to be able to love God as much as he possibly could. After months and months of prayer he stopped one day at a church to pray the Memorare and while praying in front of his favorite statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary all worry and anxiety left him and his soul was flooded with a deep peace. His prayer was answered. This experience taught him to deal tenderly with all the spiritual difficulties and temptations of those he would someday help as a priest.
Francis became a lawyer at the age of 24, but two years later with the consent of his Dad he was finally able to become a priest. And after his ordination a few years later, for his first assignment he was sent to Geneva. This was a difficult assignment because most Genevans had left the Church to become Calvinists. At most there were probably only twenty Catholics in his parish. His parish was not a safe place. The Calvinists were very hostile to Catholics especially priests. He couldn’t even live in his own parish. He had to live outside the parish boundaries and walk in everyday to his parish church and care for his flock. He was attacked by would be assassins and he was even chased by wolves once causing him to spend the night in a tree. But through all of this adversity he trusted God. He leaned into that friendship. He didn’t let worry and anxiety get the best of him.
So great was his friendship with the Father that even a washed out bridge couldn’t keep him away from celebrating the daily Mass. A storm had washed out a bridge and this bridge was the only way he could take to get to his church. But someone had laid a plank over what was left of the bridge structure. But this plank was also very wet, slimy, and slippery. So to get across he crawled on his hands and knees, so as not to fall into the water. He never missed a day celebrating Mass. That’s Charity, that’s friendship with God. With time, prayer, and perseverance Francis de Sales was able to bring many of the Calvinists back to the faith. “Whoever preaches with love is preaching effectively” he would say.
St. Francis de Sales was a man of prayer, a man of the Gospel, and he trusted the Father. He knew of God’s great love for us. God never ceases to love us. We are the work of His hands, a particular image of Himself. God will hate our sin, but He will never hate us. Even if we have turned away from God, His love still presses upon us, trying to find a chink in that armor of self-love through which He can enter and turn us back to Him. At every moment we have God’s complete attention, His undivided love. God is infinite love and at this very instant, right now, the Father is thinking of you, looking at you, directly loving you. This love invites us to trust and to deep friendship.
I have homework for you all this week. Spend ½ hour at some point this week meditating on the “Our Father.” We pray the Our Father so often that I think we sometimes run the risk of not hearing the words or letting them soak into our soul. Spend a ½ hour meditating on the perfect prayer, letting those words help you to grow in friendship with God, to grow in charity.
Peace and all good,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley