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Is it just me, or has everybody else recently received a deluge of post asking me to give to this charity or that charity? In this run up period to Christmas there are a lot of demands for our resources, and the various good and worthy causes rely on the generosity of the general public to boost their fundraising efforts at this ‘giving’ time. The fact is that everywhere needs funds to be able to function effectively, and most of those funds come from the goodwill of supporters or from the selling of merchandise.
But is ‘Charity’ far more than just donating a few spare pence or pounds to a cause that we feel is important? It is interesting to note that the ministry of the Deacon is said to split into three parts – Ministry of the Altar, Ministry of the Word and Ministry of Charity (often referred to as Ministry of Service). The Church also teaches that Charity is a supernatural virtue that is given to us as a gift from God. This virtue, along with Faith and Hope, help us in our lives to draw closer to God through the way we choose to live.
From the Catechism of the Catholic Church, we can learn that “Charity is the power by which we, who have been loved first by God, can give ourselves to God so as to be united with him and can accept our neighbour for God’s sake, as unconditionally and sincerely as we accept ourselves.” (CCC 1822-1829, 1844)
We can glean from these definitions then, that Charity is indeed about far more than just giving or helping to raise money. Whilst the need for money is essential, most charities will collapse without funds, it isn’t all there is to this aspect of living as a follower of Christ. I remember when, I think rather unkindly, I heard someone in a somewhat heated discussion about giving to charity, say that he thought “just giving money was an abdication of our responsibility to act charitably”. I presume that by this he meant that the thought it was wrong to just pay, but not act!
So what does ‘charity’ mean for me? might be the best question we can ask ourselves. Perhaps the answer is to consider this by looking at what we can actually do?
Giving of money or goods is an important part we can all play, if we can afford to do so. If our funds are limited then maybe these acts of charity are not for me. However if I can give some to ensure that others can benefit, then it is an obvious invitation for us to do so, and probably can be achieved with very little actual effort on our part. The gift however is massive to those who receive the result of our kindness and sharing.
It maybe that the giving of myself in terms of time, skills and effort is more appropriate in my own given situation. It could be to a national or local initiative. It maybe that my opportunity to be of service, to give charitably of myself, is to my immediate neighbours. It has been interesting to note recently how there has been a focus in the media on loneliness. Could my charitable contribution simply be to spend a bit of time with someone who is lonely, especially because of the pandemic restrictions. It doesn’t even have to be in person face to face, the telephone, or video calls are also very much available.
I could of course, throw myself into some massive charity scheme, or just choose to devote myself to something a little more modest in my street – but how do we decide which ones to support? Each of us will have our favourite causes that mean individually important things. This might be through association with their services, through having worked in this field, or just something that we feel is vitally important. In deciding we might like to consider how this matches with our commitment to our faith – unfortunately there can be times when this causes conflict. The best way to decide is to take a look at what the charity is trying to achieve and match that to our own faith values. So as an extreme example: a cause that promoted access to abortion services, would be completely in conflict with our faith teaching, so I wouldn’t support that.
I also perhaps should be considering my motivation for wishing to act in a charitable way. If I’m doing it just so I can say, “Well done Me!”, then it might be that I’m acting more for me than others. There is nothing wrong about feeling good about helping others, but if that is my sole inspiration, perhaps I’ve missed a bit of the faith puzzle.
If I don’t know what to do if I want to give a bit more time or funds where can I look?
An ideal place is our own parish. On the website there are a number of initiatives and suggestions that aren’t just for Christmas, but carry on throughout the whole of the rest of the year that are easy to get involved with. And of course the Church, at both parish and diocesan level relies on the generosity of supporters to be able to continue to bring our faith to the world.
In times of need, spiritual, emotional, material, practical and financial, the Christian virtue of Charity is called upon to provide help and comfort to my neighbour – whoever that might be.
In reflection then, I can consider what might be described as a Christian dilemma – how charitable am I?
Deacon Ian Black