Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Charity begins at home

Lent is upon us. This year, Pope Benedict XVI (yes, he is still our pope for a few more weeks) asks us to focus on "the indissoluble interrelation" between faith and charity. I invite you to read his lenten message. Wait! Read the rest of this post first.

He describes faith as a response to God's love—I think most of us have a pretty good grasp of what faith is and it's importance in or relationship with God. God loves us. We respond with a belief in His love and mercy and saving grace offered through Jesus.

I'm not so convinced we have the same familiarity with charity. We hear or use the word often, but do we really understand it? We give to charities. We say charity begins at home. We try to behave charitably. But what do those things mean?

I think we have watered-down charity to be synonymous with kindness. We share our material things out of kindness, or even a sense of obligation, when we give to a charity or non-profit organization—even our own parishes. Kindness is itself a worthy virtue, but don't lose sight of the fact charity is a theological virtue, the highest virtue that will never pass (cf. 1 Cor 13:13).

If faith is our initial response, charity is the next step, and every step thereafter.
Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it (cf. 1 Tim 2:4); charity is “walking” in the truth (cf.Eph 4:15). Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord, through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated (cf. Jn 15:14ff). Faith causes us to embrace the commandment of our Lord and Master; charity gives us the happiness of putting it into practice (cf. Jn 13:13-17). In faith we are begotten as children of God (cf. Jn 1:12ff); charity causes us to persevere concretely in our divine sonship, bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22). Faith enables us to recognize the gifts that the good and generous God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful (cf. Mt 25:14-30).
We don't give to charity, we give charity. Love, charity, only exists when it is given. And not just given out of obligation or kindness or to make ourselves feel good. Charity always focuses on the well-being of the other, and in the Christian sense the ultimate well-being of the other is knowing and loving God.

Just like a river ceases to be a river when the water no longer flows, our actions cease being charity when they are done without love. Love is only love when it flows from God through us to others.

Indeed, charity does begin at home. Walking in truth, living and cultivating intimate relationships, the happiness of putting into practice the Lord's command of love, being fruitful all begins with the covenant love of a husband and wife and flows to our children. This needs to be more than a philosophy or lofty goal. It needs to be put into practice.

Therein lies the challenge of our lenten journey. How are you putting your responses of faith and charity into action. How are you embodying charity to your spouse and your children. If you're anything like me, the answer is, "Sporadically. With great difficulty. Only by the grace of God."

As we go through our rituals of prayer, fasting and almsgiving this lent, let's do so with charity as both our motivation and our filter.

Oh, and one last thought: note the word "happiness" in the pope's quote above. It's a penitential season, but it's not a sour season.

St. Joseph, pray for us that we may grow in faith and abound in charity.

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