The Whole Assembly of Charity

Thinking about today’s feast, that of the Lateran Basilica, I was struck by a phrase used by St Ignatius in the second century and often quoted in reference to it. He refers to the Church as ‘the whole assembly of charity.’ (Ep. ad Rom. Pref.) The one thing everyone knows about Christianity is that it is, or should be, characterised by love and forgiveness. Alas, that is not always the experience people outside have of the Church — and by ‘Church’, I mean you and me and all our fellow Christians. It is not always the experience of those inside the Church, either. We can be harsh, unkind, even cruel. We justify our behaviour by appealing to a higher purpose (one we have decided for ourselves, of course) or excuse ourselves (ourselves, please note, not usually the other person) by saying we are only human. We are indeed human, and to be fully human is to strive to be all the things we most admire in Jesus Christ our Lord. If we look at the Church, big ‘C’ or little ‘c,’ and don’t see ‘the whole assembly of charity’ in any meaningful sense, we should take ourselves to task. Charity — love — is the one thing that cannot hurt another, the one thing that lasts for ever.