Saint Paul the Apostle teaches that we cannot claim to be followers of Christ if we do not live to the highest standards of Christian Charity…
If I speak with the tongues of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And if I should have prophecy and should know all mysteries, and all knowledge, and if I should have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. And if I should distribute all my goods to feed the poor, and if I should deliver my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.Charity is patient, is kind: charity envieth not, dealeth not perversely; is not puffed up; Is not ambitious, seeketh not her own, is not provoked to anger, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth with the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never falleth away: whether prophecies shall be made void, or tongues shall cease, or knowledge shall be destroyed. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child. But, when I became a man, I put away the things of a child. We see now through a glass in a dark manner; but then face to face. Now I know in part; but then I shall know even as I am known. And now there remain faith, hope, and charity, these three: but the greatest of these is charity.
So, what, if anything, is the “problem” with Christian charity? As one reader said to me recently, if we lived up to St Paul’s teaching, we would never say a single negative word about another person, outside of the duties of a parent, teacher or priest who may, of necessity, have to do so. But, surely, it’s impossible to live up to that very high standard?
It got me thinking about my own parents (RIP) who, notwithstanding the fact that they had their faults like everyone else, were the only people I have ever known who genuinely kept the rule of charity at the forefront of their lives – I do not recall either of them ever gossiping or bad-mouthing anyone in our extended family or among neighbours, acquaintances, work colleagues or friends. Never. Which got me wondering … what on earth did they chat about when out of earshot of the rest of the family? 😀 I have to admit upfront that while some relatives and friends have told me that I look like my mother, others think I look like my father, nobody has suggested that I share their charitable disposition(s). If only. Indeed, Just writing this piece is testing my charity and reminding me of just how greatly I am absent this virtue.
I’ve been involved in a couple of interesting conversations recently, on the subject of how to be charitable, the danger of defamation in talking about others, and a few issues have been highlighted – notably the “problem” with practising authentic Christian charity when there are divisions at home, work, or in our parishes. It has been my misfortune to witness some such divisions at church which have festered for many years. Two separate issues here are compounding the problem of living in true charity with others.
Firstly, personal weakness; the fact is, no matter how difficult, no matter how much we dislike it, if we wish to truly follow Christ then we have no option but to show respect towards our neighbour; to, as Our Lord put it, “do good to those who persecute [us]”. That’s a “problem” only when we fight it. If – as great saints like St Therese of Lisieux taught – we embrace the need to see Christ in everyone we meet, and do all in our power to actively show charity, (respect, generosity, however we think of it) which is very different from emotional “love” (to which we are not at all obliged) then it ceases to be a problem and, if we are to believe the great saints, becomes a wonderful spiritual adventure.
Secondly, those with responsibility for the souls of others – parents, teachers, priests – who fail to do their duty in correcting bad behaviour, are contributing to the “problem” of charity, so to speak. Writing about “schism” in the Winter 2004 edition of The Fatima Crusader, Father Nicholas Gruner (RIP) provides insight into the role played by clergy in the avoidance of parish divisions:
“A superior can also be guilty of schism by giving an order, or appearance of an order to the faithful in his charge, which by the very nature of the order, causes the faithful to fight among themselves. An example would be telling one half of the congregation to do one thing and telling the second half to do the opposite… Schism is terrible because it brings disorder, unhappiness and quarrelling amongst the members of the Church who should be at peace. That peace is to reflect the peace of the Church in Heaven. That peace is to be a sign to those inside and outside the Church of its divine mission: “See how they love one another” is what Christ wills for His Church, to be one piece of evidence to non-Catholics that the Catholic Church is the one true Church. Peace within the Catholic Church is also meant to be a comfort and joy to all Catholics. [see ‘Schism and the Common Good’, The Fatima Crusader, Issue 57, pp. 24ff and Issue 59, pp. 35ff]
So, what do you think? IS Christian charity a “problem” – or do we, by refusing to seriously apply the teaching of Christ and the exhortations of St Paul – make it a problem? Share your thoughts, your ideas, and any suggestions you may have to help us all move forward in true charity in our everyday lives.
“For, if you love them that love you, what reward shall you have? Do not even the publicans do this?” (Matt 5:46)