No one can know what faith is unless you first know what charity is. This is because charity and faith have the same relationship that good and truth have: faith is the form of or the expression of charity. As good belongs to charity, truth belongs to faith and like truth, faith is real only when it is part of life, that is, when it is enlivened by the good of charity.
When united with charity, faith is described as “the affection of truth from willing truth because it is truth.” In other words, real faith is confidence that the Lord will save you because He came into the world to save everyone, and does save everyone when they live according to His teaching.
Faith is erroneously but commonly described as belief in the things of the Word and the church, regardless of confidence in the Lord. But that sort of belief has nothing to do with salvation. Called “persuasive faith,” that sort of faith deals with the memory of truths and at best applied to the appeal to them from fear of hell or desperation, and at worse the use of them for the sake of reputation and worldly gain.
Genuine, saving faith, is a spiritual faith belonging to the internal self, which gains its faith through the union of will and understanding in life, which in turn are united when good is received into the will and truth is received into the understanding. In this way, a person’s faith takes its quality from his reception of good from the Lord.
Charity is often considered to be things like giving to the poor or supporting hospitals. While these things can certainly be charitable, charity encompasses much more, eventually including everything you do. When your ruling love is the love of the neighbor , everything you do becomes charitable, from giving money to “charitable” organizations, to going to work and doing your job well, even to eating breakfast.
“Who is the Neighbor?” is the central question to understanding love of the neighbor and charity. First, charity is not charity without distinction. Giving support to evil people only promotes evil. Second, neighbors are distinguished according to the good with everyone. This means that the Lord is the highest and first neighbor. In the universal or abstract sense, good itself is the neighbor. Love is also the neighbor itself because all good comes from love. We could rephrase this as a person is a neighbor according to the quality of his love.
Because the neighbor does not have to be an individual person, there are successive degrees of the neighbor, like rungs on a ladder, the higher one to be preferred over all lower. Each degree’s height in the succession is according to how each degree regards the Lord, who is the highest and first neighbor standing at the very top of the ladder. the bottom rung is smaller and larger communities, themselves ranked according to the quality of good in each. Our country is more a neighbor because it acts as a parent, promoting civil and spiritual welfare. The church is even more the neighbor because it concerns the soul and eternal life. And the Lord’s kingdom is a still higher neighbor because it consists of all who are good on earth and in heaven, and thus contains good in all its complexity.
What about Yourself? It is common to say that everyone is his own neighbor, but what we learn here about love to the neighbor helps us understand this saying. Very simply, the end is first, meaning the purpose for doing something determines its quality. The order in which they are done does not determine quality. We build houses to live in them, for example, but we must first build the foundation of the house, which we cannot live in.
To love the neighbor is to do what is good, just, and right in every work and in every office. It extends to every single thing a person thinks, wills, and does. In short, charity is to live according to the Ten Commandments because the are the Lord’s.