Charity Must Be From The Heart

Charity Must Be From The Heart February 15, 2023

No photographer listed: Baskets Being Sold At Market / pxhere

So many well-off, rich people like to think themselves as being good and very charitable towards others simply because they basically give away scraps to people in need. Yes, the amount they give might be substantial, in one sense, such as those who give away a ten-thousand dollars to a charitable contribution. On the other hand, if what they make in the time it takes to write a check is more than the check itself, clearly, they are only giving an insignificant percentage of their money to others. Such people should not be seen as being charitable because all they are giving is a small, token amount of their funds to others, and in doing so, they might end up helping themselves more (such as in the tax write-offs they receive) than those they “aid.” This is especially true in regards those who make money off of the backs of others, that is, those who make and reinforce the conditions which unjustly lead to the person needing such “charity” in the first place. It is better to have no people in need than to create a system where a few people have considerable money and privilege, and they use it to make sure everyone else remains as they are. It truly is not charitable to give back to people a small sliver of what had been unjustly taken away from them. It would be like robbing someone of a thousand dollars before giving them back fifty cents, telling them that they should be happy and pleased their robber gave them fifty cents to survive another day. Thus, Pope Benedict XVI explained:

Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or his acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice. If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it.[1]

If we treat others unjustly, if we take away from them their human dignity, their shelter, their food, their health care needs, it would be ridiculous to say we do so because we love them and they should accept what little we decide to give back to them as proof of that love. Whatever else we would be, it is not charitable, for love is needed for charity to be true to itself – caritas.  If we love someone, we will do what we can to lift them up. We will not push them down.

When  someone who is rich exploits workers, whatever they give to help the system continue so that they remain in a state of privilege, making sure they cannot attain the dignity they should have, is not charity, nor even justice, but rather, an attempt to circumvent both.  Giving a little food to slaves does not prove the master loves the slaves and is a good person; it only means they want their slaves to live so they can be exploited and used for another day. If we are not just towards others, then our actions, however beneficial they might be to those in need,  should not be confused with charity. Charity comes from the heart . It encourages us to lift people up, to make them better, indeed, to make sure they find themselves in a better position than justice expects, and in this way, charity “transcends justice.”[2]

A person who gives out of love will give of themselves for the sake of the beloved, even if it means, as a result of what they do, they find themselves taking a loss. They will be more interested in the good of the other than for their own personal gain. This is exactly the kind of spirit we find promoted by the desert fathers:

They used to say of one brother that, having made some baskets, he was putting handles on them when he heard a brother who was his neighbor saying, “What am I to do, for market day is almost here, and I have no handles to put on my little baskets!” He went and detached the handles from his own baskets and brought them over to the other brother, saying, “Look, I have these left over; take them and put them on your little baskets.” He enhanced the brother’s work to the detriment of his own.[3]

Exploiters will never give beyond what they feel will help them stay in a position of privilege, and so will only give whatever will help keep the system which benefits them in place. When they do something good, giving a little of their money to others, they like to publicize their actions, for they like to feel as if they are being charitable. They like to fool themselves as a way to hide from themselves what it is they really are doing. On the other hand, one who is charitable and loving will give as they can – indeed, they will give more than can be justly expected of them. A charitable person does look for accolades, but rather, gives out of love, doing what they can to help others attain what they could not attain themselves. The monk in this story was willing to help another monk sell his baskets at the expense of his own ability to sell his own baskets. The monk was more interested in the good of his neighbor, and in the common good, than in the slight gain he might have had if he didn’t come to the aid of his neighbor; sadly, so many people who like to pretend to be charitable are not like this; they consider their own situation first, and only will help others if they have something to gain from doing so. And so, the anonymous monk serves as an example of how we can and should fulfill Pope Benedict’s XVI’s exhortation:

The more we strive to secure a common good corresponding to the real needs of our neighbours, the more effectively we love them. Every Christian is called to practise this charity, in a manner corresponding to his vocation and according to the degree of influence he wields in the pólis. [4]

The monk embraced his vocation, and did so in a way to show how anyone, including a monk, can give to others in need. We might not be monks selling baskets at a market in order to provide our community, and ourselves, what is needed for basic subsistence, but we can learn from him, because more, not less is expected of us as we have a greater place in the secular world than a monk has. We are to do what we can with the gifts we have to promote the common good, to make sure society as a whole is not exploitive of others. We should not use religion, the appearance of being charitable, or anything else for an unjust, selfish gain. The more power and wealth we have, the more we are expected to use it for the good of all, and not just for ourselves. For, otherwise, our lack of charity will cling to us and cause us some kind of suffering in the future:

To acquire wealth is also a great good; but to grow rich from a source whence you should not is not an advantage to be desired but a calamity to be shunned. For there is no one more unfortunate and no one more miserable than he who prospers  by unjust gains, whom frauds and thefts enrich. [5]

If, however, we truly embrace charity, love, we will find that our love will connect us with each other and with God. Whatever we lose for the sake of justice and charity will be restored to us, not equally, but with grace that multiplies it greatly. Thus, in the eschaton, we will reap what we have sowed, for, “He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed” (Prov. 19:17 RSV).

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate. Vatican translation. ¶6.

[2] Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, ¶6.

[3] John Wortley, trans., The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Collegeville, MN: Cistercian Publications, 2012), 304 [N347].

[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Caritas in veritate, ¶7.

[5] Julianus Pomerius, The Contemplative Life. Trans. Mary Josephine Suelzer, PhD (Westminster, MD: The Newman Bookshop, 1947), 78.

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