When the founders of this country publicly stated their intent to separate themselves from the British Empire, they closed with the stirring pledge of “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” No one reading that declaration doubted for a moment the seriousness of their commitment. When members join the Society, they similarly promise to “share their time, their possessions, their talents and themselves.” [Rule, Part I, 2.5.1] If we are living this promise, the neighbor should never doubt the seriousness of our commitment.
In their revolutionary pledge, the founders promised this total commitment to each other; it was truly a pledge of friendship, an unbreakable and sacrificial bond for the sake of the liberty they sought together. Ours also is a pledge of friendship, between not only the members themselves, but with God and the neighbor. It is “a three-fold relationship with God, the poor, and one another – mutual support and friendship.” [Rule, Part III, St. 5]
Christ, who told us that there is no greater act of love towards one’s friends than to give one’s life for them did exactly that for us, and so, St. Vincent asks, “Can we have a better friend than God?” When our friends – our best friends – ask us to join them at a movie, a show, in a hobby or pastime that we otherwise might not choose, we do it not for love of that hobby, but for love of our friend. Similarly, then, St. Vincent continues, “Must we not love all that [God] loves and, for love of Him, consider our neighbor as our friend!” [CCD XI:39]
The neighbor is truly loved by God; it is the neighbor for whom He died no less than He died for us. When we pledge to share our time, our possessions, our talents, and ourselves, we make this pledge in true friendship, knowing that there is no act of friendship greater than self-sacrifice, and always mindful that one of the friends in this “three-fold relationship” has not only already made, but kept this pledge.
So, when the neighbor calls us, we never respond by seeking a way to limit our help or to serve our own convenience first. Instead, like we would for any true friend, we drop everything in order to “serve the poor cheerfully, listening to them and respecting their wishes.” [Rule, Part I, 1.8]
Charity, the love of God, is to do for others what we would reasonably want them to do for us; it “causes us to do for our neighbor the good that a person has the right to expect from a faithful friend.” [CCD XII, 216] The American founders “mutually pledge2 to each other,” to their friends, a very great commitment. May we mutually pledge to our friends – to each other, to God, and to the neighbor – in our words and in our actions, a true declaration of charity.
Do I ever allow myself to give less than I would expect to receive from a friend?