January 28, 2011

Religious Life and Interior Charity

Over my time in religious life I have come to recognize that it is important for me to pray for my religious brothers, especially those with whom I am assigned in community. Perhaps this is something obvious to someone better formed or less distracted than me, but for me it's something I have to keep in mind. I don't mean praying for the brothers in a general way, but individually and by name. At the time of the preces or intercessions when I say Morning or Evening prayer on my own, or when I have time to recollect intentions before a Mass, I try to pray for each of the brothers in the house. This helps me to remember to be grateful for each in his own vocation and consecration, to recall the particular intentions or concerns of each, and to remember that some might have other intentions and struggles which I don't know about.

I have found this to be an important practice because it helps to establish my thoughts in what I call interior charity. This is to name a general, interior attitude of gratefulness for each brother and the desire for his happiness and the flourishing of his gifts and vocation.

Exterior charity, at least within the normal limits expected in religious life, is an easy thing relative to this. It is made up of exterior acts, and anyone can make himself do them. And this isn't a bad, or necessarily disingenuous thing; anyone who wants to give himself to the ascesis of common life has to learn how to love people he might not like, or be brother to those who might seem to be impeding fraternal life.

But this interior charity, this interior disposition of gratitude and appreciation for the other brothers in the thought and affect, it is for me that which--more than any other single thing--makes the difference for my day-to-day and moment-to-moment peace and relative undistraction in my own life of prayer and obedience. Because it makes such a difference for me, it is something that the devil is always trying to trick me into throwing away. Whatever the occasion is, whether it be my intellectual pride, rubrical or doctrinal righteousness, or any number of my petty vanities, the devil will always be trying to use such occasions as a means to get me to abandon interior charity and thus lose my own peace, thereby increasing my misery and reducing my attention to the work that the Holy Spirit has given me to do.


Karinann said...

Thanks Br. Charles. This is something all of us need to pray for the grace attain. There are days I wonder why I lose my peace; I am sure lack of interior charity is usually the reason.
God bless!

Jeanne said...

This is a really beautiful post and reminds me a bit of two of my favorite saints - St. Therese of Liseux, and St. Francis de Sales, both of whom would certainly approve of your exercises in interior charity. As for myself, I will use this technique for the elderly family member who lives with us, who is difficult to deal with on a good day and probably needs my prayers more than my irritation.

Julia said...

I think this is so important. There is no better way to learn how to deal with people than by seeing them as souls in relation to God, and there is no better way to do that than by praying for them individually.

I've found that if I do that it is nearly impossible to get annoyed or impatient with people, even in their sins and faults. They are either souls that are striving and struggling for God (and falling short, as we all do) or they are souls that are suffering and lost from not seeking Him (a category many of us can fall into at times, as well).

Thanks for the reminder, Father.

Unknown said...

Very inspiring post. Your brothers here at Cap College in D.C. have discussed this very issue as of recent. We now keep a small prayer card with the names, birthdates, and dates of profession of all the brothers in the house to remind ourselves to pray for each other by name. This interior charity you speak of is certainly a greatly neglected Christian value and, if I may add, a very strong ideal that us Capuchins try to emphasize in our fraternal and ministerial endeavors. Indeed, this should be a vital part of our identity as friars minor and followers of Christ certainly. Thank you, brother!

doughboy said...

amazing insight here. i was a postulant once in a cistercian house and found myself scopelocked on such inane foibles and faults of my fellow brothers. practicing interior charity towards them, for them ... you are so right, it's a vitally important prayer. one of the senior monks used to say to me, too, "keep your eyes in your own choir stall" whenever i'd be so focused on others' faults instead of my own. i had to actively practice charity in my head and in my heart, hoping that it'd overflow in my actions. and it did.

Greg said...

Just finished reading two articles on the charism of Francis, articles that pondered whether hermitage or the marketplace was the correct place for a Friar.

(See "Hermitage or Marketplace? The Search of an Authentic Franciscan Locus in the World" and "Wall to Wall Ministry: Franciscan Ministry in the Cities of Thirteenth-Century Italy," both by Michael Cusato, O.F.M. in Spirit and Life Vol 10, 2000.)

The discussion centers on whether friars should be removed from the bustle of everyday life in order to draw upon the benefits of solitude, or whether it was more important to be immersed in the life of those to whom they minister.

Your post adds a dimension to the issue by reminding us how attention can slip away from our Brothers when we leap on the treadmill of ministry.