Will and Owen are young brothers only a couple of years apart in age. They are also happily good friends who might resolutely fight over the sharing of toys but also amicably agree on a video to watch. During a family night out at a restaurant that caters to children, the boys were awarded a knife, fork and spoon with a particularly childlike (or better, childish) appeal. The kids were delighted with their trophies. Somewhere along the line one cutlery set got mislaid, misplaced, somehow missing. Subsequent meals witnessed vigorous fraternal arguments over which of the siblings would get to use the remaining coveted flatware. Parental intervention often had to settle the discussions. The older brother Will had to undergo a childhood hospital procedure which meant that Owen was left at home to occupy and entertain himself while his brother recuperated. Will was not pleased with his hospital bed and Owen was not pleased with his fraternal isolation. Of course they could converse over FaceTime and send crayon-etched messages back and forth, but neither brother was happy with the separation. When Will finally arrived home in decent health, Owen presented his brother a carefully wrapped gift which was none other than the coveted knife, fork, and spoon with this attached message: “These are now yours — FOREVER!”
Fraternal charity has been the hallmark of Christianity as well as Judaism since revelation first took shape. Sometimes in the Bible fraternal charity has been famously honored in the breech. The murder of Abel by his brother Cain was fratricide, a sin which still cries out to God Himself for vengeance. The deliverance of Jacob’s young son Joseph into the hands of Egyptian slave traders by his envious brothers was a particularly hardened act of fraternal betrayal. The elder son of the forgiving father in Christ’s celebrated parable was paternally chastised for his intolerant attitude toward his returned and repentant younger brother. Even the sainted Martha, Jesus’ friend at Bethany, was mildly put in her place when she unsisterly chided her sibling Mary’s neglect of household chores. “Mary has chosen the better portion,” Jesus gently chastised Martha who was paying more attention to her culinary duties then to her distinguished guest.
With all respect to the two boys and to the Biblical figures that got short-changed by their kin, fraternal charity goes far beyond sharing a knife and folk or helping out in the kitchen. The first reading at Mass this coming weekend for the feast of the Baptism of our Lord comes from the writings of Isaiah and frankly deserves to be quoted here in its entirety. Isaiah writes: “Thus says the LORD: Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one with whom I am pleased, upon whom I have put my spirit; he shall bring forth justice to the nations, not crying out, not shouting, not making his voice heard in the street. A bruised reed he shall not break, and a smoldering wick he shall not quench, until he establishes justice on the earth; the coastlands will wait for his teaching. I, the LORD, have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand; I formed you, and set you as a covenant of the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.”
Isaiah’s phrases are words of courage, words of determination, words of expansive good works for the benefit of society at large. “…justice to the nations…justice in the earth…the victory of justice…a light for the nations to open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” Today, for any believing Christian, fraternal charity must include social justice. It is certainly laudable to donate a box of Cheerios and a can of tomato sauce to the parish food drive. But it is much more praiseworthy to be familiar with the social stances of elected officials regarding life, marriage and gender issues, concerning environmental and immigration matters, relating to educational opportunities and law enforcement. The Holy Sacrifice of the Body given and the Blood poured out celebrated in church must translate daily into personal sacrifices for the good of society as a whole.
Christian tradition and Western civilization are gravely threatened today, certainly by secularism, but most of all by apathy. Believers would be remiss to view the preservation of traditional Christian values which have guided society for two millennia as simply a manifestation of white supremacy. Christian values are God-given values, and believers must not only defend them, they must work to enshrine them in every human culture and in every human soul. Charity does indeed begin at home, but today this must mean the wider home of one’s city, one’s state, one’s nation, one’s planet.