January 14, 2022

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Charity teaches us to have a Christ-like love for our neighbors

David Bethuram

January is Poverty Awareness Month, focusing on hunger and malnutrition, limited access to education and other basic services, social discrimination and exclusion, disabilities and restricted access to participation in the democratic process. These are some of the manifestations of poverty. It is a complex social issue, which is why it is important for Catholics to understand and embrace the virtue of charity.

As Catholics, we have been taught about charitable works through the Gospels and various practices like outreaches. St. Thomas Aquinas esteems charity as “the most excellent of the virtues.” What does charity mean in the context of the Catholic faith? Why are charitable works important to us as Catholics?

Most people think of charity simply as a kind act of giving. The most general definition of charity, however, means so much more. Charity, in its purest sense, means love. It encompasses our love for God and love for others. St. Thomas Aquinas said, “The habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also the love of our neighbor.” These two kinds of love are closely tied to one another.

Christian theology upholds charity as the greatest of the three theological virtues, which also includes faith and hope. According to moral theology, charity is a divinely infused virtue which lets us focus our will to cherish God above all things for his own sake and to cherish all others for the sake of God.

Charity is the ultimate perfection of the human spirit because it is a reflection and glorification of God’s nature. It binds all virtues together in perfect harmony. It also purifies and uplifts human love to the perfection of God’s love.

As members of the Catholic faith, we are encouraged to practice charity in different ways. Since the apostolic age, Christians were taught to not just give, but to give from the heart to everyone in need regardless of their race or religion because “Christ is all and in all.”

Although many world religions uphold charitable works, it is especially emphasized in the Christian faith and is a central message in the Gospels.

In St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we are instructed to love our neighbors because they are the children of God

(Col 3:11). We are all part of the same human family and share the same nature, needs and dignity. Because of our kinship and unity as God’s people, we must have compassion and understanding for one another.

Charity teaches us to have a Christ-like love for our neighbors. This kind of love is unconditional, and by it we are able to reach out to our brothers and sisters and help relieve any physical, mental, moral or spiritual needs they may have.

The simplest way we can express charity is to speak, act and think with love. We must keep in mind that charity is all about love. As Scripture says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor 13:4-7).

With this Bible verse in mind, let us remember to always treat others with compassion. When we have love in our hearts and minds, it is easy for us to put the needs of others first. We act without self-interest and always with the goal of helping others.

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at dbethuram@archindy.org.)

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