Works and Alms
WORKS AND ALMSGIVING by St. Cyprian
Many and great, most beloved brethren, are the divine blessings by which the abundant and copious clemency of God the Father and of Christ has both worked and is always working for our salvation, because the Father has sent His son to preserve us and to quicken us that He might be able to restore us, and because the son wished to be sent and to be called the son of man that He might make us the sons of God. He humbled Himself that He might raise up the people who before were prostrate; He was wounded that He might cure our wounds; He served that He might draw those served away to liberty. He underwent death that He might hold forth immortality to mortals. These are the many and great gifts of divine mercy. But still further, what providence and what great clemency that is, that we are provided for by a plan of salvation so that more abundant care is taken for man's salvation who has already been redeemed! For when the Lord had come and healed the wounds which Adam had borne and had cured the old poisons of the serpent, He gave him when made whole a law not to sin anymore lest something more serious happen to him in his sinning. We were restricted and shut within a narrow limit by the prescription of innocence. And the infirmity of human frailty would have no resource nor accomplish anything, unless again divine goodness came to the rescue and by pointing out the works of justice and mercy opened a way to safeguard salvation, so that by almsgiving we may wash away whatever pollutions we later contract.
The Holy Spirit speaks in the Scriptures, saying: 'By alms and by faith sins are cleansed.' Surely not those sins which had been contracted before, for they are purged by the blood and sanctification of Christ. Likewise again he says: 'As water quenches fire, so do alms quench sin.' Here also it is shown and proved that just as with laver of the waters of salvation the fire of Gehenna is extinguished, so by almsgiving and good works the flame of sins is quenched. And because the remission of sins is once granted in baptism, constant and continuous labor acting in the manner of baptism again bestows the indulgences of God. This does the Lord also teach in the Gospel. For when it was noted that His disciples were eating without first having washed their hands, He replied and said: 'He who made the inside made also the outside. Truly give alms, and behold all things are clean to you,' that is, teaching and showing that not the hands but the heart ought to be washed and that the foulness within rather than without ought to be taken away, but that he who cleanses what is within has cleansed also what is without and when the mind has been made clean he has begun to be clean in skin and body. But furthermore advising and showing how we can be pure and cleansed, He added that alms must be given. The merciful One advises that mercy be shown, and, because He seeks to save those whom He redeemed at a great price, He teaches that those who have been polluted after the grace of baptism can be cleansed again.
So, most beloved brethren, let us acknowledge the saving gift of divine indulgence by cleansing and purging our sins; let us, who cannot be without some wound of conscience, care for our wounds with spiritual remedies. Let no one so flatter himself on his pure and immaculate heart that relying on his innocence he think that medicine should not be applied to his wounds, since it is written: 'Who shall boast that he has a pure heart or who shall boast that he is clean from sins?' and since again John lays down and says in his Epistle: 'If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.' But if no one can be without sin, and whoever says that he is without fault is either proud or foolish, how necessary, how kind is the divine clemency which, since it knows that certain later wounds are not lacking to those already healed, gave salutary remedies for the care and healing of the wounds anew.
Finally, most beloved brethren, never has the divine admonition failed and been silent in the Old as well as the New Testament in always and everywhere urging the people of God to works of mercy, and, as the Holy Spirit prophesies and exhorts, in ordering everyone, who is being instructed unto hope of the heavenly kingdom, to practice almsgiving. The God of Isaias commands and orders: 'Cry out in strength,' he says, 'and spare not; lift up thy voices as with a trumpet; announce to my people their sins, and to the house of Jacob their crimes.' And when He had ordered their sins to be charged upon them and when He had set forth their iniquities with the full force of His indignation, and had said that they could not make satisfaction for their sins, not even if they resorted to prayers, nor even if they rolled in sackcloth and ashes could they soften God's anger, yet in the last part showing that God can be placated by almsgiving alone, he added saying: 'Break thy bread with the hungry and bring into thy house those who lack a roof. If you see one naked, clothe him, and thou shalt not despise the offspring of thy seed. Then shalt thy light break forth seasonably, and thy garments shall speedily arise, and thy justice shall go before thee and the brightness of God shall surround thee. While you shall yet speak, He shall say 'Lo, here I am.'
The remedies for propitiating God have been given in the words of God himself; divine instructions have taught that God is satisfied by just works, that sins are cleansed by the merits of mercy. And in Solomon we read: 'Shut up alms in the heart of the poor, and it shall obtain help for thee against all evil.' And again: 'He that stoppeth his ears lest he hear the weak, shall himself call upon God, but there will be none to hear him.' For he will not be able to merit the mercy of God who himself has not been merciful, nor will gain any request from the divine love by his prayers, who has not been humane toward the prayer of the poor. This likewise the Holy Spirit declares in the Psalms and proves, saying: 'Blessed is he who thinks of the needy and the poor; the Lord will save him in the evil day:' Mindful of these precepts Daniel, when king Nebuchodonosor being frightened by an unfavorable dream was worried, gave a remedy for averting evils by obtaining divine help, saying: 'Wherefore, O king, let my counsel be acceptable to thee, and redeem thy sins with alms, and thy iniquities with works of mercy to the poor, and God will be patient with thy sins.' When the king did not obey him, he suffered the misfortunes and trouble which he had seen, which he might have escaped and avoided, if he had redeemed his sins by alms-giving. The angel Raphael also testifies likewise, and urges that almsgiving be practiced freely and generously, saying: 'Prayer is good with fasting and alms, for alms delivereth from death, and itself purges away sins.' He shows that our prayers and fastings are of less avail, unless they are aided by almsgiving, that entreaties alone are able to obtain little, unless they are made sufficient by the addition of deeds and works. The angel reveals and makes manifest and confirms that our petitions are made efficacious by almsgiving; that by almsgiving life is redeemed from dangers; that by almsgiving souls are freed from death.
Most beloved brethren, we do not so bring forth these things, so as not to approve by the testimony of truth what the angel Raphael said. In the Acts of the Apostles faith in the fact is established, and it is discovered by the proof of the accomplished and fulfilled fact that by almsgiving souls are freed not only from the second but also from the first death. When Tabitha who had been very much given to just works and almsgiving fell sick and died, Peter was summoned to the body of the lifeless one. And when he had come quickly in accord with apostolic charity, there stood around him widows weeping and beseeching, showing the cloaks and tunics and all the garments which they had previously received, and praying for the deceased not by their words but by her own works. Peter felt that what was sought in this way could be obtained and that Christ's help would not be lacking the widows as they pleaded, since He Himself was clothed in the clothing of widows. So when, falling on his knees, he had prayed and as a proper advocate of the widows and the poor had brought the prayers entrusted to him to the Lord, turning to the corpse which already washed lay on the bier, he said: 'Tabitha, arise in the name of Jesus Christ.' Nor did He fail to bring aid to Peter at once, who had said in His Gospel that whatever should be asked in His name was granted. Therefore, death is suspended and the spirit is restored and, as all marveled and were amazed, the body is revived and quickens for the light of this world anew. So powerful were the merits of mercy, so much did just works avail! She who had conferred upon suffering widows the assistance for living deserved to be recalled to life by the petition of widows.
Thus in the Gospel the Lord, the Teacher of our life and Master of eternal salvation, quickening the populace of believers, and providing for them forever when quickened, among His divine mandates and heavenly precepts, commands and prescribes nothing more frequently than that we continue in almsgiving and not depend on earthly possessions but rather lay up heavenly treasures. 'Sell,' He says, 'Your possessions, and give alms'; and again: 'Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where rust and moth consume, and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven where neither rust nor moth consumes and where thieves do not break in. For where thy treasure is, there also will be thy heart.' And when He wished to show the man who had been made perfect and complete by the observance of the law, He said: 'If you wish to be perfect, go, sell all that you have, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven, and come follow me.' Likewise in another place He says that a merchant of heavenly grace and a purchaser of eternal salvation, after ridding himself of all his possessions, ought to purchase from the amount of his patrimony the precious pearl, that is eternal life, precious by the blood of Christ. He says: 'The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking good pearls. When he finds a pearl of great price, he goes and sells all that he has and buys it.'
Finally also He calls those sons of Abraham, whom He perceives active in aiding and nourishing the poor. For when Zachaeus said: 'Behold I give one-half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it four-fold,' Jesus replied: 'Today salvation has come to this house, since he, too, is a son of Abraham.' For if Abraham believed in God, and it was accounted to him unto righteousness, surely he who gives alms according to the precept of God believes in God; and he who possesses the truth of faith keeps the fear of God; moreover, he who keeps the fear of God considers God in showing mercy to the poor. For so he labors, because he believes in God, because he knows that those things are true which have been predicted in the words of God, and that holy Scripture cannot lie, that unfruitful trees, that is, sterile men, are cut off and cast into the fire, that the merciful are called to the kingdom. He also in another place calls the laborious and fruitful faithful, but to the unfruitful and sterile he denies the faith, saying: 'If in the wicked mammon you have not been faithful, who will entrust to you what is true? And if in the case of what belongs to another you have not been faithful, who will give you what is your own?
But you are afraid and you fear lest, if you begin to act very generously, your patrimony come to an end because of your generous action and you perchance be reduced to penury; be undisturbed on this score, be secure. That cannot be ended, whence expenditure is made in the service of Christ, whence the heavenly work is celebrated. I do not promise you on my own authority but I vouch for it on the faith of holy Scriptures and on the authority of the divine promise. The Holy Spirit speaks through Solomon and says: 'He that giveth to the poor shall never be in want; but he that turns away his eyes shall be in great want,' showing that the merciful and those who do good can never be in want, that rather the sparing and the sterile later come to want. Likewise the blessed apostle Paul full of the grace of the Lord's inspiration says: 'He who provides seed for the sower, also will give bread to eat and will multiply your seed and will increase the growth of the fruits of your justice, so that in all things you may be enriched.' And again: 'The administration of this service not only will supply what the saints lack but will abound also through much action of gratitude in the Lord,' because, while the action of thanks is directed to God by the prayer of the poor for our almsgiving and good works, the wealth of him who does good is increased by the retribution of God. And the Lord in the Gospel, already considering the hearts of such men and denouncing the faithless and unbelievers with prescient voice, bears witness and says: 'Be not anxious, saying: 'What shall we eat or what shall we drink or what shall we put on?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your Father knows that you have need of all these things. But seek first the kingdom and the justice of God, and all these things shall be added to you.' He says that all things are added and given over to those who seek the kingdom and the justice of God; for the Lord says that, when the day of judgment shall come they, who have labored in His Church, are admitted to receive the kingdom.
Your fear lest your patrimony perchance fail you, if you begin to do good generously from it, and you do not know, wretched man that you are, that, while you are afraid lest your personal wealth be failing, life itself, and salvation fail, and, while you are anxious lest any of your possessions be diminished, you do not take notice that you yourself, a lover of mammon rather than of your soul, are being diminished, and, while you are afraid lest for your own sake you lose your patrimony, you yourself perish for the sake of your patrimony. Therefore, the Apostle well exclaims, saying: 'We brought nothing into this world, and we can take nothing out. Therefore, having food and clothing, with these let us be content. But those who seek to become rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many harmful desires which plunge a man into destruction and damnation. For covetousness is the root of all evils and some seeking wealth have made shipwreck of their faith and have involved themselves in many troubles.'
Do you fear lest your patrimony perchance fail, if you begin to act generously from it? For when did it happen that resources could fail a just man, when it is written: 'The Lord will not afflict the soul of the just with famine.' Elias in the desert is fed by ministering ravens, and a meal is prepared in heaven for Daniel when he was inclosed in a den of lions by order of the king; and you fear lest food be lacking for you while you do good and deserve well of the Lord, when He Himself in the Gospel bears witness for a reproach of those of doubtful mind and little faith and says: 'Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap, or gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you of more value than they?' God feeds the fowls, and daily sustenance is furnished the sparrows, and to those creatures who have no sense of things divine neither drink nor food is lacking. Do you think that to a Christian, do you think that to a servant of God, do you think that to one devoted to good works, do you think that to one dear to the Lord anything will be lacking?
Unless you think that he who feeds Christ is not himself fed by Christ, or that earthly things will be lacking to those upon whom heavenly and divine things are bestowed, whence this incredulous thinking, whence that impious and sacrilegious contemplation? What is a faithless heart doing in a home of faith? Why is he called and spoken of as Christian who does not believe in Christ at all? The name of pharisee is more befitting you. For when the Lord in the Gospel was discoursing about almsgiving, and forewarned faithfully and for our salvation that we should make friends for ourselves of our earthly lucre by provident good works, the Scripture added after this the following words: 'Now the Pharisees, who were very fond of money, were listening to all these things, and they were sneering at him.' Certain persons like these we now see in the Church, whose closed ears and blinded hearts admit no light from the spiritual and saving warnings, of whom we should not marvel that they contemn the servant in his discourses, when we see that the Lord Himself is contemned by such.
Why do you give approbation to yourself with these empty and foolish thoughts, as if you were withheld from good works by fear and solicitude for the future? Why do you hold forth certain shadows and illusions of a vain excuse? By all means confess what is the truth, and, since you cannot deceive those who know, set forth the hidden and secret things of your mind. The shadows of sterility have besieged your mind, and with the withdrawal from it of the light of truth the deep and profound darkness of avarice has blinded your carnal heart. You are the captive and slave of your money; you are tied by the chains and bonds of avarice, and you whom Christ had already freed are bound anew. You save money which, when saved, does not save you; you accumulate a patrimony which burdens you with its weight; and you do not remember what God replied to the rich man who boasts with foolish glee over the abundance of his abounding harvest. 'Thou fool,' He said, 'this night thy soul is demanded. Therefore, the things that thou hast provided, whose will they be?' Why do you alone watch over your riches? Why do you pile up the burden of your patrimony, that the richer you have been in the sight of the world, the poorer you may become in the sight of God? Divide your returns with your God; share your gains with Christ; make Christ a partner in your earthly possessions, that He also may make you co-heir of His heavenly kingdom.
You err and are deceived, whoever think yourself rich in the world. Hear the voice of your Lord in the Apocalypse as He rebukes such men with just reproaches. He says: 'You say: "I am rich and have grown wealthy and I have need of nothing," and you do not know that you are wretched and poor and blind and naked. I counsel you to buy of me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and that you may put on a white garment, and that the shame of your nakedness may not appear; and anoint your eyes with eye-salve that you may see.' You, therefore, who are wealthy and rich buy for yourself from Christ gold that has been tried by fire, that you can be pure gold, when your impurities have been burnt out as if by fire, if you are cleansed by almsgiving and just works. Buy for yourself a white garment, that you, who according to Adam had been naked and were before frightful and unseemly, may be clothed in the white raiment of Christ. And you who are a rich and wealthy matron anoint your eyes not with the stibium of the devil but with the eye-salve of Christ, that you can come to see God, when you merit God by character and good works.
But you, who are such, cannot do good works in the Church; for your eyes suffused with blackness and covered with the shadows of night do not see the needy and the poor. Do you, rich and wealthy, think that you celebrate the Lord's Feast, who do not at all consider the offering, who come to the Lord's Feast without a sacrifice, who take a part of the sacrifice which the poor man offered? Behold in the Gospel the widow mindful of the heavenly precepts, doing good in the very midst of the pressures and hardships of poverty, casting two mites which were her only possessions into the treasury; and when the Lord noticed and saw her, considering and weighing her good work not as from a patrimony but as from the heart, He answered and said: 'Truly I say to you that this widow has put more than all into the offering for God. For all these out of their abundance have put in as gifts to God, but she out of her want has put in all that she had to live on.' A greatly blessed and glorious woman, who even before the day of judgment merited to be praised by the voice of the Judge. Let the rich man be ashamed of his sterility and his misfortunes. A widow, that is, a poor widow is found with an offering, and, although all things that are given are conferred upon orphans and widows, she gives who ought to receive, that we may know what punishment awaits the rich man, when by this teaching the poor also should do good. And that we may understand that these works are given to God and that he, whoever does these, deserves well of God, Christ calls this 'gifts of God' and points out that the widow has placed two mites among the gifts of God, that it can be more and more manifest that he who pities the poor lends to God.
Let not this fact, dearest brethren, restrain and recall the Christian from good and just works, that anyone think that he can be excused for the benefit of his children, since in spiritual contributions we should consider Christ who has professed that He receives them and not prefer our fellow servants to our children but the Lord, for he instructs and warns us, saying: 'He who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.' Likewise in Deuteronomy for the strengthening of the faith and the love of God, similar things are written. He says: 'Those who say to their father and mother: "I do not know you," and who have not known their children, these have kept thy precepts and observed thy covenant.' For if we love God with our whole heart, we should prefer neither parents nor children to God. This also John lays down in his Epistle, that there is no love of God in those whom we see unwilling to do good to the poor. He says: 'He who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?' For if by almsgiving to the poor God is made our debtor, and when it is given to the least it is given to Christ, there is no reason for anyone preferring earthly things to heavenly, nor placing human thing before divine.
Thus when the widow in the third Book of Kings, after all had been consumed in the drought and the famine, had made a cake upon the ashes from the little meal and oil that was left, and after this had been eaten was about to die with her children, Elias came and asked that there first be given him to eat and that she with her children then eat what was left of this. She did not hesitate to obey nor did the mother put her children before Elias in the famine and want. Rather, there is done in the sight of God what pleases God; promptly and gladly what was sought is offered, and a portion is not given out of the abundance but the whole from a little, and another is fed before her hungry children, and in poverty and hunger food is not considered before mercy, so that while in a saving work life according to the flesh is contemned the soul spiritually is preserved. Thus Elias, playing the part of Christ, and showing that he returns to each according to his mercy, replied and said: 'Thus saith the Lord: the pot of meal shall not fail, nor the cruse of oil diminish until the day wherein the Lord will give rain upon the earth.' According to her faith in the divine promise what she promised was multiplied and heaped high for the widow, and, as her just works and merits of mercy took on growth and increase, her vessels of meal and oil were filled. Nor did the mother deprive her children of what she gave Elias, but rather she conferred upon her children what she did kindly and piously. But she did not yet know Christ; not yet had she heard his precepts; she did not, as one redeemed by His cross and His passion, repay food and drink for His blood, so that from this it is apparent how much he sins in the world, who, placing himself and his children before Christ, preserves his wealth, and does not share his plentiful patrimony with the indigent poor.
But yet there are many children in the house, and the number of offspring prevents you from applying yourself to good works. Still by this very fact you ought the more to do good works, since you are the father of many pledges. There are more for whom you beseech the Lord; the sins of many must be redeemed; the consciences of many must be purged; the souls of many must be freed. As in this unholy life the greater the number of your children the greater is the expense for their nourishment and sustenance, so too in the spiritual and heavenly life the greater the abundance of your children, the greater also should be the outlay of good works. Thus Job offered numerous sacrifices for his children, and as great as was the number of pledges in his home, so great a number of victims also was offered to God. And since daily there cannot be lacking some sinning in the sight of God, daily sacrifices were not lacking with which the sins could be wiped away. Scripture proves this when it says: 'Job, a true and just man, had seven sons and three daughters, and he cleansed them by offering for them sacrifices to God according to their number, and for their sins one calf.' If then you truly love your sons, if you show them the full and paternal sweetness of love, you should do good works more that you may commend your sons to God by your righteous works.
Do not consider him the father of your children who is both temporary and weak, but obtain Him who is the eternal and strong Father of spiritual children. Assign to Him your wealth which you are keeping for your heirs; let Him be your children's guardian, their caretaker, their protector with his divine majesty against all worldly injuries. When your patrimony is entrusted to God, the state does not seize it, nor does the tax-collector assail it, nor any forensic calumny overturn it. The inheritance is placed in safety, which is kept under God's care. This is to provide for the future of your dear charges; this is to provide for your future heirs with paternal love according to the faith of the holy Scripture which says: 'I have been younger and I have grown old, and I have not seen the just man forsaken nor his seed begging bread. All the day he shows mercy and lends, and his seed shall be blessed.' And again: 'He who lives without reproach in justice shall leave behind him blessed children.' So you as a father are a transgressor and a betrayer, unless you look out faithfully for the welfare of your children, unless you attend to their salvation with religious and true love. Why are you eager for earthly rather than heavenly patrimony? Why do you prefer to commend your children to the devil rather than to Christ? You sin twice and commit a twofold and double crime both because you do not make ready the help of God the Father for your children and because you teach your children to love their patrimony more than Christ.
Be to your children such a father as was Tobias. Give useful and salutary precepts to your pledges such as he gave to his son; command your children as he too commanded saying: 'And now, sons, I command you, serve God in truth, and do before Him what pleases Him; and command your children that they do justice and alms-deeds, and that they be mindful of God, and bless His name on every occasion.' And again: 'And all the days of thy life, son, have God in mind, and do not transgress His commandments. Do justice all the days of thy life, and do not walk the way of iniquity, for when you act truthfully there will be respect of your works. Give alms out of thy substance, and turn not away thy face from any poor person, for so shall it come to pass that the face of the Lord shall not be turned from thee. As you have, my son, so give: if you have an abundant supply, give alms the more from that. If you have a little, give a share from that little. Have no fear when you bestow an alms; you are storing up for yourself a good reward for the day of necessity, for alms delivers from death and does not suffer one to go into darkness. Alms provides a great confidence for all who do it before the most high God.'
What sort of gift is it, dearest brethren, whose setting forth is celebrated in the sight of God? If in a gift of the Gentiles it seems grand and glorious to have proconsuls or emperors present, and the preparation and the expense on the part of the givers is greater that they may be able to please greater personages, how much more illustrious and greater is the glory of the giver to have God and Christ as spectators; how much richer in this case is the preparation, and extensive the expense to be set forth, when the powers of heaven assemble for the spectacle, all the angels assemble, when not a four-horsed chariot or a consulship is sought for the giver, but eternal life is presented, nor is the empty and temporary favor of the mob laid hold of, but the everlasting reward of the heavenly kingdom is received.
And that the lazy and the sterile and those doing nothing about the fruit of salvation because of their covetousness for many may be more ashamed, that the blush of their shame and disgrace may the more strike upon their sordid conscience, let each one place before his eyes the devil with his servants, that is, with the people of perdition and of death springing forth into the midst, the people of Christ, with Him present and judging, calling forth in a contest of comparison, as he says: 'I, for those whom you see with me have neither received blows nor have I undergone stripes, nor carried the cross, nor poured forth blood, nor have I redeemed my family at the cost of suffering and blood; moreover, neither do I promise them a heavenly kingdom nor, after restoring immortality, do I again recall them to paradise; and what precious, what grand gifts, sought out with what excessively long labor do they prepare for me with the most sumptuous devices, after mortgaging or selling their possessions; and, unless a respectable demonstration follows, they are cast out with reproaches and hissings, and sometimes they are almost stoned to death by the fury of the populace. Point out such almsgivers of yours, O Christ, those rich men, those men affluent with abounding wealth, whether in the Church where you preside and watch they give forth a gift of this kind, after pawning and distributing their possessions, rather after transferring them to heavenly treasures by exchanging what they possess for something better. By those transitory and earthly gifts of mine no one is fed, no one is clothed, no one is sustained by the solace of any food or drink. Everything in the midst of the madness of the giver and the mistake of the spectator are perishing because of the prodigious and foolish vanity of frustrating pleasures. There among your poor You are clothed and You are fed; You promise those who give alms eternal life; and scarcely are Your people, who are honored by You with divine wages and heavenly rewards, made equal to mine.'
What do you reply to all this, dearest brethren? In what manner do we defend the sacrilegious sterilities and the minds of the rich covered by a kind of night of shadows; by what excuse do we clear them, we who are less than the servants of the devil, so as not to repay Christ even in small measure for the price of His passion and blood? He has given us precepts; He has taught what His servant should do; promising a reward to those who give alms and threatening punishment to the sterile; He has set forth His sentence; He has foretold what His judgment would be. What excuse can there be for him who ceases to do so; what defense for the sterile? Unless it be that, unless the servant does what is commanded, the Lord will do what He threatens. He even says: 'When the Son of man shall come in His majesty, and all angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory; and before Him will be gathered all the nations, and He will separate them one from another, as the shepherd the sheep from the goats, and He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the king will say to those who are on His right hand: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you covered me; I was sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me." Then the just will answer Him saying: "Lord, when did we see hungry, and feed thee; or thirsty, and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and take thee in; or naked, and clothe thee? Or when did we see thee sick, or in prison, and come to thee?" Then the king answering will say to them, "Amen I say to you, as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me." Then he will say to those who are on His left hand: 'Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which my Father has prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me." Then they also will answer and say to Him: "Lord, when did we see Thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to Thee?" And He will answer them: "Amen, I say to you, as long as you did not do it for one of these least ones, you did not do it for me." And these will go away into everlasting fire, but the just into everlasting life.'' What greater declaration could Christ have made to us? How more could He have stimulated the works of our justice and mercy than by having said that whatever is offered to the poor and the needy is offered to Him, and by having said that He is offended unless offering is made to the needy and the poor? So that he in the Church, who is not moved by consideration of his brother, may indeed be moved by contemplation of Christ, and he who does not give thought to his fellow servant in trouble and in need may indeed give thought to the Lord abiding in that very one whom he despises.
And so, most beloved brethren, let us whose fear is inclined toward God, and whose minds, after spurning and trampling upon the world, are turned to heavenly and divine things to deserve well of the Lord, offer obedience with full faith, devoted minds, and continual good works. Let us give Christ earthly garments that we may receive heavenly clothing. Let us give worldly food and drink that together with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob we may come to the heavenly banquet. Lest we reap little, let us sow very much. While there is time, let us take thought for security and eternal salvation, as Paul, the Apostle, advises saying: 'Therefore, while we have time, let us do what is good to all men, but especially to those who are of the household of faith. And in doing good let us not grow tired, for in due time we shall reap.
Let us consider, most beloved brethren, what the assemblage of believers did under the Apostles, when at the very beginning the mind flourished with greater virtues, when the faith of believers was warm with a fervor of faith still new. Then they sold their homes and estates, and gladly and generously offered the proceeds to the Apostles for distribution among the poor, by selling and distributing their earthly patrimony transferring their estates there where they might receive the fruits of an eternal possession, there preparing homes where they might begin to live always. Such was their abundance in good works then as was their unity in love, as we read in the Acts of the Apostles: 'Now the multitude of those who believed were acting with one soul and one mind, nor was there any discrimination among them, nor did they judge anything their own of the goods that they had, but they had all things in common.' This is truly to become a son of God by spiritual birth; this is to imitate the equity of God by the heavenly law. For whatever belongs to God, belongs to all by our appropriation of it, nor is anyone kept from his benefits and gift, nor does anything prevent the whole human race from equally enjoying God's goodness and generosity. Thus the day illuminates equally; the sun radiates, the rain moistens; the wind blows, and for those who sleep there is one sleep; and the splendor of the stars and the moon is common. With this example of equality the possessor on the earth who shares his returns and fruits, while he is fair and just with his gratuitous bounties, is an imitator of God the Father.
What, dearest brethren, will be that glory of the charitable; how grand and consummate the joy, when the Lord begins to number His people, and, distributing the rewards for our merits and works, to grant heavenly things for the earthly, everlasting for the temporal, great for small, to offer us to the Father to whom he restored us by His sanctification, to bestow eternal immortality on us, for which He has prepared us by the quickening of His blood, to bring us back again to paradise, to open up the kingdom of heaven by the faith and truth of His promise! Let these things cling firmly in our thoughts; let these things be understood with a full faith; let these things be lived with a whole heart; let these things be redeemed by the magnanimity of unceasing good works. Dearest brethren, a glorious and divine thing is the work of salvation (charity), a grand solace for believers, a salutary safeguard of our security, a bulwark of hope, a safeguard of faith, a cure for sin, something placed in the power of the doer, a grand and easy thing, a crown of peace without the danger of persecution, a true and very great gift of God, necessary for the weak, glorious for the strong, aided by which the Christian bears spiritual grace, deserves Christ as judge, and accounts God his debtor. Let us strive gladly and promptly for this palm of the works of salvation; let us all run in the contest of justice as God and Christ look on, and let us, who already have begun to be greater than this life and this world, not slacken our course by a desire for this life and this world. If the day of reward or of persecution comes upon us ready and swift as we run in this contest of good works, the Lord will never fail to give a reward for our merits; in peace He will give to those who conquer a white crown for their good works; in persecution He will give a second crown, a purple one, for our passion.