Being charitable

The dictionary has several definitions of charity. The first meaning that I think of when hearing the word is of the organizational kind. The next would be of the “good works” variety. In reality, these are just two manifestations of a pure intent.

Maybe I just was not paying close enough attention, but I do not remember the concept of being charitable articulated as often in my past Protestant community as it is among Catholics. It is a simple, beautiful and very Christian philosophy. At its heart, it is following the second of the two greatest commandments – to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:39). The really simple definition should be “charity is love.”

Cardinal José Saraiva Martins has written about the “face of Christ.” Our need to see it, how it is reflected in the Church and through the witness of the Saints. He explains:

In sum, the Church is called to reflect his Face, the face of Christ Teacher, Prophet, Priest and King, in order that we can say of her in relation to Christ what Christ said of himself in relation to the Father…

[…]

We need to be accurate in what we mean. The Church, to whom the sublime mission has been entrusted to make present and reveal the face of Christ to the human person, is not only constituted by her structures, but also by all the members of the People of God. With the Incarnation in a certain sense Christ united himself to every human being.

Last Sunday, Father Walter (a visiting priest) gave an excellent homily on Jesus as our shepherd. He focused on Christ’s love for each of us, individually. That love is a very personal thing, from our Lord to every single person. Not just a “love for all” but a love for you, by name.

Putting all this together, we are called to reflect God’s love in our treatment of others, whom He loves perfectly just as He loves us. Think about that. Every interaction we have with another person is an interaction with someone who God says is unique, special and whom He loves without limitation. Our actions relative to that person (every person), the one with the powerful friend, must be ordered to their benefit. THAT is charity.

Being charitable is asking yourself if the action you are about to take or the things you are about to say put the honest benefit of another first. To “put them in their place,” “score a point” at their expense, to assume the worse of their intentions, or just being mean (because you can, you feel like it and are having a bad day) – are all at least uncharitable.

Sometimes people think that being charitable is “always being nice” or “never hurting someone’s feelings.” They are very wrong. In some situations, following those guidelines is actually uncharitable. Jesus and the Apostles boldly rebuked and condemned evil. That probably hurt some feelings.

My brothers, if anyone among you should stray from the truth and someone bring him back, he should know that whoever brings back a sinner from the error of his way will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.

The truth God revealed to us is important and not a matter of opinion, choice or personal preferences. When people do not understand that, or worse – distort it, our obligation is to help them. If we remain silent out of a false notion of charity, then we contribute to continuing their ignorance. If we love them, we care about their salvation and our actions should be certain and gentle.

To avoid rash judgment, everyone should be careful to interpret insofar as possible his neighbor’s thoughts, words, and deeds in a favorable way:

Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another’s statement than to condemn it. But if he cannot do so, let him ask how the other understands it. And if the latter understands it badly, let the former correct him with love. If that does not suffice, let the Christian try all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation so that he may be saved.

CCC 2478

When you have to reprove anyone who has committed a small or even a grave fault, do so with great gentleness. Be firm when the fault demands it, say few words, and never speak when in a passion, for then the reproof will harm the soul of both the one receiving it and the one giving it.

[…]

A Christian soul, and above all a religious soul, to be pleasing in the sight of our Lord, will treat her neighbor as she expects our Lord to treat her. Remember this well and when the opportunity comes, practice it faithfully.

Finally, when our response to public sin or false teaching is silence, we contribute to the scandal it causes. In these cases, the harm is to many more than one person.

Scandal is an attitude or behavior which leads another to do evil. The person who gives scandal becomes his neighbor’s tempter. He damages virtue and integrity; he may even draw his brother into spiritual death. Scandal is a grave offense if by deed or omission another is deliberately led into a grave offense.

CCC 2284

Reprimand publicly those who do sin, so that the rest also will be afraid.

Be charitable, not silent!

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