By: Nathan Deg

I’ve always been astounded when I read about the saints. Not just by how they lived out their faith, but by how different their lives are from each other. St. Ignatius (founder of the Jesuits) fought in a war, was shot by a cannon and met Jesus while he recovered. St. Therese of Lisieux was a deter-mined young girl who desperately wanted to become a nun. St. Mark Ji Tianxiang was an opium addict. Bl. Benedict Daswa was a South African school teacher and principal. Each of them, along with all the other saints, lived completely different and fascinating lives. The one thing that they have in common is that each of them lived love profoundly.

The core of Catholicism is love. All the teachings of the Church, the liturgies, sacraments, prayers – all of these are motivated by love. God’s love for us, our response of love to Him, and our love for each other. Love is the vocation of every single person. Our highest calling is to love God and each other.

The one thing all the saints (canonised and uncanonised) have in common. They live out love. Liv-ing love is more than just being in love, or expressing love for others. It’s having a truly radical love that goes beyond limits and boundaries, that takes action, that empowers, that transforms. It means making love a virtue. This virtue is known as the virtue of charity.

The word charity itself comes from the Latin word caritas, which is understood as a love for God and others. In the Catechism charity is defined as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God.” (CCC 1822). This is a little bit different than our more colloquial understanding of charity, where we think of it as giving help to the needy. But, this makes complete sense when we step back and ask ‘why do we give help to the needy?’ Because we recognise our shared humanity and see their need. We see a fellow child of God suffering, and, out of love for them, we try to help.

Ultimately, the virtue of charity is both the simplest and the most important of all the virtues. It is the most important virtue because it is the virtue of love. And, as St. Paul said:

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a re-sounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)

Without love we are nothing. Moreover, love is the foundation upon which the rest of the virtues are built. It is “superior to all the virtues… [and] the practice of all the virtues is animated and inspired by charity, which ‘binds everything together in perfect harmony’… it is the source and the goal of [our] Christian practice…” (CCC 1827).

So that’s it, the virtue of charity is really straightforward: love God and love others. When we met someone, love them. Just have an attitude of love towards the world. Like I said, simple, straight-forward…but incredibly hard. I know in my life there are people who I do struggle to love. Some have hurt me and other people who I love. Some do horrendous, evil things. Some I just find irritat-ing. It feels next to impossible to love some of these people, but that’s what I’m called to do. And so are we all. Jesus said “But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Do not even tax collectors do the same?” (Mt. 5:44,46)

One way to start trying to live this virtue is to ask some questions in the various situations we find ourselves. How am I to love this person here and now? How do I love my parents when they are being unreasonable? How do I love my friends when we hang out? How do I love the partner who just broke up with me? How do I love the person I encountered on the street? And couple this ques-tion which may be the most important: are my actions motivated by love of God and love of others?

I can attest to the fact that if I ask those questions of myself on a regular basis I see growth in this virtue. And this virtue is amazing! Not only is it what we are made for but “the fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy; charity demands beneficence and fraternal correction; it is benevolence; it fosters reciprocity and remains disinterested and generous; it is friendship and communion: Love is itself the fulfilment of all our works. There is the goal; that is why we run: we run toward it, and once we reach it, in it we shall find rest” (CCC 1829).

Living a charitable life is the best way to live life. I’m not there yet, but I’ve had a barest taste of it and it is great! I have experienced the joy and peace that the Church is talking about during those periods where I’ve lived this virtue. Yes, loving all the time can be hard and it can be painful and yes, that does sound like a corny cliché, but honestly, not loving ends up being harder and more painful. And the pain of loving is transformed from pain into even more love. I have plenty of goals in life, but living charity is the Goal. Love is really what it’s all about at the end of the day.

About Author: Nathan DegVersion 2
I am an astrophysicist working as a post-doctoral fellow at UCT. I obtained my Ph.D. in 2014, and am currently studying barred spiral galaxies, stellar streams, and the Milky Way. I enjoy way to many video games, books, movies, and tv shows and have a deep and abiding love for real (ice) hockey.