Thursday, April 4, 2013

Charity in Utopia

 The Catholic Church, that imperishable handiwork of our all-merciful God, has for her immediate and natural purpose the saving of souls and securing our happiness in heaven.
- Pope Leo XIII, Immortale Dei
 The Church does much charitable work such as feeding, clothing, and sheltering the poor. This does not mean she is just one NGO among many. Her primary mission, that which she must pursue above all others, is to lead souls into heaven and to stop them from falling into hell. Everything she does must flow from that. When charitable organizations deviate from or downplay that mission, the results are easily observable. Their mission becomes to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked, and shelter the homeless, and nothing more. There is much emphasis on the community and society. The needs of the individual become secondary to those of the community. Charity becomes horizontal. It becomes good men helping the less fortunate. I'm not saying that's wrong. I'm saying it's incomplete. Don't the pagans do as much?

True Catholic charity flows from the top down. Consider the Act of Charity all Catholics used to memorize: "O God, I love thee above all things with my whole heart and soul because thou art all good worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for love of thee. I forgive all those who have injured me, and ask pardon of those whom I have injured." There's a reason why Christ repeatedly commanded us to love our neighbor: the sort of human wreckage that comes to our charitable services can appear quite unloveable indeed. If your corporal works of mercy do not flow from a love of Christ, then you'll eventually come to dislike them. You'll stop doing this work all together. Even if you don't, you'll perform your work with a dry cynicism that is of no use to either God or neighbor. Don't the pagans do as much?

A sacrament is an outward sign of an inward grace. It is the use of visible means to bring us to an invisible end. That's what it means to have a sacramental world view: using the visible things of this world to lead souls to God. The saints who were known for their charitable works such as St. Vincent de Paul or St. John of God always had this in mind. Charity is based on the interior life. Even those most active in the apostolate had rich spiritual lives. Charity toward our neighbor is the overflowing of our love of God. If we lose sight of that, then we become mere progressive do-gooders working to build a heaven on earth. Don't the pagans do as much?

It's silly, therefore, to believe there must be a disconnect between charity and catechesis or worship or the spiritual life. Many Catholic organizations do a lot of good social work but lack a solid foundation in the Faith and mission of the Church. They provide earthly bread but speak not at all of the bread from heaven. Don't the pagans do as much?

Inspired in part by Oz Conservative.

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