February 14, 2020

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Virtue of charity requires us to speak, act and think with love

David Bethuram

As Catholics, we have been taught about charity work through the Gospels and various outreaches. St. Thomas Aquinas esteemed charity as “the most excellent of the virtues.”

Most people think of charity simply as a benevolent act of giving. The most general definition of charity, however, means so much more than that.

Charity in its purest sense means love and encompasses our love for God and our love for our fellow people. 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 humanity for the sake of God.

​“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, heartfelt compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience, bearing with one another and forgiving one another, if one has a grievance against another; as the Lord has forgiven you, so must you also do. And over all these put on love, that is, the bond of perfection” (Col 3:12-14).

Charity is the ultimate perfection of the human spirit since 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.

Our Catholic faith encourages us 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.”

In Colossians 3:11, we are instructed to love our neighbors because they are the children of God. 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 is love that is unconditional, and by it we are able to reach out to our sisters and brothers 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, and as it says in St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians: “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 out.

We develop a charitable spirit by supporting and engaging in parish social outreach ministries, programs at local Catholic Charities or the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.

Each one of us has a special gift that can be of use in God’s work. How do you practice charity in your life? What charity work do you plan to do?

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

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