The Rector writes…
This weekend the charity which feeds needy children MARY’S MEALS will be asking for our help, and in the coming weeks we shall be reminded of the work of CAFOD – their annual Harvest Fast Day collection will be taken over the weekend 14th/15th October. The word “charity” has unfortunate connotations as, too often, it is reduced to finding a few coins in the pocket to contribute to whatever good cause is making an appeal. The Catechism reminds us of the truer and more profound significance of the word. “Charity is the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for his own sake, and our neighbour as ourselves for the love of God”. We accept that the ability to love is itself an overflow from the Divine nature in which as human beings we are privileged to participate. Saint John reminds us of true origin of love: “this is the love I mean: not our love for God, but God’s love for us when he sent his Son to be the sacrifice that has taken our sins away”. Charity, essentially, is less about our tokens of generosity to those in need, than the recognition that being loved by God carries with it a responsibility to live as a conduit of that love to those around us. We try to help and support, as and where we can, because the understanding of God’s love requires no less.
At base, the sharing of the resources we have been given is an acceptance of God as the supplier of everything and ourselves as stewards of what has been bestowed on each of us. Saint Catherine of Siena offers a perceptive but challenging insight: “God says: ‘I have willed that one should need another and that all should be my ministers in distributing the graces and gifts they have received from me’”, while Saint Gregory the Great sees what we offer to others as no more than their natural right: “when we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice”. Saint Thomas Aquinas goes even further when he writes in justification of theft to sustain life where there is no alternative, using the example of a mother unable to feed her starving child. The views of these Saints is based on the acceptance that everything we are and everything we have is sourced in God, and that as the Letter to the Corinthians teaches: “you are not your own property; you have been bought and paid for”.
The Pope who has done so much to form the Church’s social teaching for modern times (Leo XIII, particularly in his great encyclical Rerum Novarum) is clear about the right to personal ownership and the duty of provision for the needs of one’s own family and dependants, but he, too, says: “we should not consider our material possessions as our own but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when others are in need”, and he goes on to warn that “a most strict account must be given to the Supreme Judge for all that we possess”. What God asks of each of us is our co-operation (given our personal capacities whether physical, intellectual or spiritual) in bringing his Kingdom closer. A few are called to a vocation of complete renunciation, as with the Franciscans and the Carmelites, but for most we are faced with what is the more complex task of having to steer a careful path in deciding what is legitimate and what is not, where one’s resources should be expended, and where not. Jesus is clear (in the Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25: 14-30) that we must try to enhance rather than waste what has been given: inaction is not an option. “Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelled out by that doctrine is derived from charity” (Benedict XV1). In the decisions which face us each day let us pray for the grace always to put our discernment of God’s will at the centre and to serve him in a genuine concern for one another. “You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is the one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour” (Roman 13:9).