Without the virtue of charity, holiness is nothing more than a moral charade

March 13, 2023

Our ability to communicate with others often involves an interaction of the mind, heart, and body. All three modes of communication are essential when attempting to convey a thought or express an emotion to someone. I argue that the delivery of a message that involves these forms of direct human communication is far more effective and receptive than any current media platform.

Though social media is beneficial in communicating a message, the challenge to this approach is the need for more direct human interaction. For instance, the exchange of handshakes when you meet someone for the first time or initiated at the sign of peace and prior to the Lamb of God in preparation for the celebration and reception of the Holy Eucharist at Mass. The simple gesture of a handshake is significant from both a human and divine perspective. From a human perspective, when you extend your hand to someone, you respectfully recognize their presence and express a willingness to engage in conversation or dialogue with the person. It also reflects a mutual desire to enter into a contract or to ratify an agreement. From a divine perspective, the handshake signifies a communal bond between two of God’s children willing to engage in a covenant agreement or a bond.

A Holy Handshake

Keeping with the theme of a handshake, it had become apparent post-COVID that the sign of peace at Mass had been relegated to a nod, a wink, a smile, a stare, or a “how dare you even think of shaking my hand” response. Cognizant of the concerns and fears many still harbor from the frightening experience of COVID, the lack of communal interaction was quite glaring. However, the intention of this simple gesture eventually prevailed during Mass several weeks ago. During the sign of peace, I extended my hand to a woman in the pew in front of me and within the span of five seconds, the woman paused and then immediately realized, as expressed through her facial expression, “of course, I’ll shake your hand” and extended the sign of peace to my family and me.

As Mass concluded, the woman with whom I exchanged the sign of peace was grateful to shake someone’s hands again during the sign of peace. She commented, “I had forgotten what it was like to shake someone’s hand; thank you for your willingness to extend it to me; it meant a lot.” The woman’s remarks expressed a clear and vivid example that I argue elicits a more robust response to an action accompanied by an actual person than not.     

Charity as the source of holiness

The Catechism of the Catholic Church reminds us that we are called to holiness. Charity is the soul of holiness to which we are called; it governs, shapes, and perfects all the means of sanctification.[1] Affirming this position, St. Therese of Lisieux teaches us:

If the Church was a body composed of different members, it couldn’t lack the noblest of all; it must have a Heart, and a Heart BURNING WITH LOVE. And I realized that this love alone was the true motive force which enabled the other members of the Church to act; if it ceased to function, the Apostles would forget to preach the gospel, the Martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. LOVE, IN FACT, IS THE VOCATION WHICH INCLUDES ALL OTHERS; IT’S A UNIVERSE OF ITS OWN, COMPRISING ALL TIME AND SPACE—IT’S ETERNAL![2]

St. Therese emphasizes the virtue of charity as the source of our missionary and kerygmatic behavior to preach the Gospel with and through love. The virtue of charity binds the integration of the heart, mind, and body in our profession and confession of faith. As St. Paul reminds us: And over all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.[3] Love is the source of prayer; whoever draws from it reaches the summit of prayer.[4] Authentic love is the source of holiness; without it, any act of holiness is a moral charade. St. John Vianney summarizes this last point very clearly,

I love you, O my God, and my only desire is to love you until the last breath of my life. I love you, O my infinitely lovable God, and I would rather die loving you, than live without loving you. I love you, Lord, and the only grace I ask is to love you eternally.… My God, if my tongue cannot say in every moment that I love you, I want my heart to repeat it to you as often as I draw breath.[5]






[1] CCC 826

[2] CCC 826; St. Therese of Lisieux, Autobiography of a Saint, tr. Ronald Knox

[3] Col 3:14

[4] CCC 2658

[5] CCC 2658, St. John Vianney, prayer

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