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"What must I do to inherit eternal life?"


Faith at most makes us a hero. Love makes a saint.

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LovingChristHead of Christ by Rembrandt van Rijn, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Faith can put us above the world, but love brings us under God’s throne. Faith can make us sober, but love makes us happy. It is possible for a man to have the clearest, calmest, most exact view of the realities of heaven, may most firmly realize and act upon the truths of the Gospel, may have that full confidence in God’s word as to be able to do miracles, may have such simple, absolute faith as to give up his property to feed the poor, may so scorn the world and with so royal a heart trample upon it as even to give his body to be burned by a glorious martyrdom, and yet it is abstractedly possible that not one of these proper acts of faith in  itself necessarily implies love. The Apostle says that though a person be all that has been said, yet unless he be also something besides—unless he have love—it profits him nothing (1 Cor 13:1-3).

O fearful lesson to all those who are tempted to pride themselves in their labors or sufferings or sacrifices or works! We are Christ’s, not by faith merely, nor by works merely, but by love. Not by hating the world, nor by hating sin, nor by venturing for the world to come, nor by calmness, nor by magnanimity—though we must do and be all this. We are saved, not by any of these things, but by that heavenly flame within us, which while it consumes what is seen aspires to what is unseen. Love is the gentle, tranquil, satisfied acquiescence and adherence of the soul in the contemplation of God. Not only a preference of God before all things, but a delight in him because he is God. Not any violent emotion or transport, but, as Saint Paul describes it, long-suffering, kind, modest, unassuming, innocent, simple, orderly, disinterested, meek, pure-hearted, sweet-tempered, patient, enduring (1 Cor 13:4-7). Faith without charity is dry, harsh, and sapless; it has nothing sweet, engaging, winning, soothing. It was charity which brought Christ down. Charity is but another name for the Comforter. It is eternal charity which is the bond of all things in heaven and earth. It is charity wherein the Father and the Son are one in the unity of the Spirit, by which the angels in heaven are one, by which all saints are one with God, by which the Church is one upon earth.

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Saint John Henry Newman. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" from The Tears of Christ: Meditations for Lent. Augustine Institute (2019).

Printed in the October 2023 edition of Magnificat. Used with permission.

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