Humanea Vitae: Day 29 Christian compassion

The Ichthus

Christian Compassion

29. Now it is an outstanding manifestation of charity toward souls to omit nothing from the saving doctrine of Christ; but this must always be joined with tolerance and charity, as Christ Himself showed in His conversations and dealings with men. For when He came, not to judge, but to save the world (cf. Jn 3:17), was He not bitterly severe toward sin, but patient and abounding in mercy toward sinners?

Husbands and wives, therefore, when deeply distressed by reason of the difficulties of their life, must find stamped in the heart and voice of their priest the likeness of the voice and the love of our Redeemer.

So speak with full confidence, beloved sons, convinced that while the Holy Spirit of God is present to the magisterium proclaiming sound doctrine, He also illumines from within the hearts of the faithful and invites their assent. Teach married couples the necessary way of prayer and prepare them to approach more often with great faith the Sacraments of the Eucharist and of Penance. Let them never lose heart because of their weakness.

The Holy Father continues to speak toward priests about the importance of mercy.  He repeats what was said earlier about how preaching the truth is an act of charity when it is preached from a concern for souls.  In fact, it is uncharitable to fail to preach the truth when the opportunity arises.

But he also says that it must be done with compassion.  St. Peter talks about being “ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope,but do it with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15-16).  The word used here is tolerance, a word that I’m not a big fan of quite frankly.  That’s because today, “tolerance” is used to mean that we should look the other way or that we should just keep our mouth shut at all times.

Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia wrote about the meaning of tolerance in 2007 when he was the Archbishop of Denver.  He writes:

Actually, I think the word tolerance itself is a kind of problem. Tolerance comes from the Latin words tolerare, which means to bear or sustain, andtollere, which means to lift up. It implies bearing other people and their beliefs the way we bear a burden or a really nasty migraine headache. It’s a negative. And it’s not a Christian virtue.

As Catholics we have a duty to treat all people, regardless of their beliefs, with justice, charity, mercy, prudence, patience, and understanding. We’re not asked to “tolerate” them but to love them, which is a much more demanding task. Obviously, tolerance is an important democratic working principle. Most of the time, it’s a good and vital thing. But tolerating lies about the nature of the human person is a sin. Tolerating grave evil in a society is an equally grave evil. And using “tolerance” as an excuse for not living and witnessing Jesus Christ in our private lives and in our public actions is not an act of civility. It’s a form of cowardice (source).

In fairness, Humanae Vitae was originally written in Latin, so when Pope Paul VI used the word “tolerantia”, he had the classical meaning of the word in mind, not our diluted modern meaning.  The point is that we have to live and preach the truth with both firmness and patience.  We are convinced by what is right and we desire to lead others to that same conviction.  But we have to be patient just as our Lord is always patient with us.

(Posted with permission from Fr. Lee Acervo at

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1 Comment

  1. SR

     /  May 17, 2012

    “We are not asked to tolerate them, but to love them.” What a great way to put it and one I will keep with me. Am trying to catch up on blog reading so will be back to read more. This was really good. God Bless, SR


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