At first glance writing an article about ‘Charity’ may appear unusual or perhaps a little obscure, however, in my blog this week I unpack what we consider to be a very important virtue in the lives of our boys if they are to develop fully into the Christ like men we want them to. The importance of having a Christian understanding of charity has never been more important given the focus on self that the secular world encourages and the bombardment we all receive on what appears to be a never ending cry for our money. Cold calls from tele marketers, brochures, people in shopping centres and collectors at every set of lights seem to be in our faces all hours of the day, every day. This combined with the questions most of ask as to where our money goes can lead to skepticism. If you are like me, we can all suffer from charity fatigue and perhaps even a cynicism towards charity. I am sure many of you would think that the school sometimes fits into one of these categories also as we encourage the boys to get walkathon sponsors, bring tins for Vinnies or as we collect for Caritas. With all this in mind, I felt it necessary to make it clear on the charities we support and why. Before I get into my explanation I think it is important to make the point that whilst frustrating, the vast majority of the charities who tin rattle, call, trap, or beg us for our support are all worthy causes.
Let me start with the four charities the College supports. Because schools are sitting targets for every good cause that exists in society, the College took the decision to limit the number of charities we support to protect ourselves, and most importantly, the boys and their families from a constant call to put our hands in our pockets. We chose four charities linked to the Catholic Church, the Salesians or have a local connection. We focus on one of these each term, with Caritas our focus in Term 1, Salesian Missions in Term 2, St Vincent de Paul’s Society in Term 3 and the local Christmas Appeal in Term 4. We also allow, on the odd occasion, the boys to raise money for a personal cause, one that has touched them in their lives, such as the ‘Shave for a Cure’ cause this year. The only other fundraising the College supports is the Parent’s Association’s $30 per family levy which replaced all the chocolate drives, raffles, Mothers’ and Fathers’ Day stalls they had run in the past. So why do we even bother to do these?
To assist me in unpacking this question I went to our favorite site for gaining answers to the big questions in our lives, Wikipedia. Here I found the following definition. In Christian theology, charity, and in Latin, ‘caritas’, is understood by Thomas Aquinas as “the friendship of man for God”, which “unites us to God”. He holds it as “the most excellent of the virtues”. Further, Aquinas holds that “the habit of charity extends not only to the love of God, but also to the love of our neighbor”.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “charity” as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God”.
We could further describe Christian Love as the action of the will and of choice rather than emotional connection (we see this when our boys respond to disasters such as Haiti). Christian Love refers to goodwill, kindness, compassion and justice that one human offers to another, always seeking the good of the other at its core motivator.
Many times when charity is mentioned in English-language bibles, it refers to “love of God”, which is a spiritual love that is extended from God to man and then reflected by man, who is made in the image of God, back to God. God gives man the power to act as God acts (God is love), man then reflects God’s power in his own human actions towards others. One example of this movement is “charity shall cover the multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). “The practice of charity brings us to act toward ourselves and others out of love alone, precisely because each person has the dignity of a beloved child of God.”
Charity is held to be the ultimate perfection of the human spirit, because it is said to both glorify and reflect the nature of God. Confusion can arise from the multiple meanings of the English word “love”. As other theological virtues, Charity is divinely infused into the soul; it resides in the will. According to Aquinas, charity is an absolute requirement for happiness, which he holds as man’s last goal.
Charity has two parts: love of God and love of man, which includes both love of one’s neighbor and one’s self.
The practice of charity means the voluntary giving of help to those in need, as a humanitarian act.
The word charity originated in late Old English to mean a “Christian love of one’s fellows,” and up until at least the beginning of the 20th century, this meaning remained synonymous with charity. Aside from this original meaning, charity is etymologically linked to Christianity, with the word originally entering into the English language through the Old French word “charité”, which was derived from the Latin “caritas”, a word commonly used in the Vulgate New Testament to translate the Greek word agape (ἀγάπη), a distinct form of “love” (see the article: Charity (virtue)).
Over time, the meaning of charity has shifted from one of “Christian love” to that of “providing for those in need; generosity and giving,” a transition which began with the Old French word charité.
Charitable giving is the act of giving money, goods or time to the unfortunate, either directly or by means of a charitable trust or other worthy cause. Charitable giving as a religious act or duty is referred to as almsgiving or alms. The name stems from the most obvious expression of the virtue of charity; giving the recipients of it the means they need to survive. The impoverished, particularly those widowed or orphaned, and the ailing or injured, are generally regarded as the proper recipients of charity. The people who cannot support themselves and lack outside means of support sometimes become “beggars”, directly soliciting aid from strangers encountered in public.
Some groups regard charity as being distributed towards other members from within their particular group. Although giving to those nearly connected to oneself is sometimes called charity—as in the saying “Charity begins at home”—normally charity denotes giving to those not related, with filial piety and like terms for supporting one’s family and friends. Indeed, treating those related to the giver as if they were strangers in need of charity has led to the figure of speech “as cold as charity”—providing for one’s relatives as if they were strangers, without affection.
Most forms of charity are concerned with providing basic necessities such as food, water, clothing, healthcare and shelter, but other actions may be performed as charity: visiting the imprisoned or the homebound, ransoming captives, educating orphans, even social movements. Donations to causes that benefit the unfortunate indirectly, such as donations to fund cancer research, are also charity.
In the past century, many charitable organizations have created a “charitable model” in which donators give to conglomerates who give to recipients. Examples of this include the Make a Wish Foundation (John Cena holds the title for most wishes granted by a single individual, with over 450 wishes) and the World Wildlife Fund. Today some charities have modernized, and allow people to donate online, through websites such as JustGiving. Originally charity entailed the benefactor directly giving the goods to the receiver. This practice was continued by some individuals, for example, “CNN Hero” Sal Dimiceli, and service organizations, such as the Jaycees. With the rise of more social peer-to-peer processes, many charities are moving away from the charitable model and starting to adopt this more direct donator to recipient approach. Examples of this include Global Giving (direct funding of community development projects in developing countries), DonorsChoose (for US-based projects), PureCharity, Kiva (funding loans administered by microfinance organizations in developing countries) and Zidisha (funding individual microfinance borrowers directly).
Institutions evolved to carry out the labor of assisting the poor, and these institutions, called charities, provide the bulk of charitable giving today, in terms of monetary value. These include orphanages, food banks, religious institutes dedicated to care of the poor, hospitals, organizations that visit the homebound and imprisoned, and many others. Such institutions allow those whose time or inclination does not lend themselves to directly care for the poor to enable others to do so, both by providing money for the work and supporting them while they do the work. Institutions can also attempt to more effectively sort out the actually needy from those who fraudulently claim charity. Early Christians particularly recommended the care of the unfortunate to the charge of the local bishop.
Christians are not the only people in the world who are charitable, there are plenty of people doing charity work outside the religious connection. As humans we are social beings and therefore we have a responsibility to look after each other, and many do this based on this understanding of humanity. So why do we see the virtue of charity with such importance in our setting beyond the basic belief in humanity?
Whilst long winded, the answer is quite simple as I have explained in previous writings. As a Catholic Secondary School in the Salesian tradition we see the education we provide the boys as being far more than teaching them the three ‘Rs’. The foundation for Catholic education is the dignity of the human person formed in the image of God. In this light, Catholic education is holistic by nature, looking to nurture all elements or aspects of the human person. Thomas Groome refers to a Catholic intellectual tradition (CIT) where he contends that it is both/and, a holistic way of knowing. This is maintained by Clement of Alexandria’s (150AD – 215AD) proclamation that Christ the educator taught body, mind and spirit, his work was a work of salvation, he educated to save souls (whole person). Catholic education endeavours to enrich personhood, to inform, form and transform people’s being. Catholic Education puts a faith tradition on education. Education in this light has two life positions, the imminent and the transcendent, that is why we educate for this life, for what is needed in the now as well as educating for a greater reason. An important aspect of educating boys to value the dignity of all because we are all made in the image of God is that this then calls us to help our fellow man to the best of our ability. To have an awareness of others in the world who are less fortunate than ourselves and then do what we can to help, not because we have to but rather because we know if we are to truly love God we have to love our neighbour.
Rev. Michael Busch, Chaplain, Ryerson University, provided this perspective post and Rector, St. Michael’s Cathedral, further unpacks charity and our attitude towards giving.
“How we think about money affects our behaviour and our attitude towards giving. Every time I ask my parishioners for money it can make them anxious and maybe even a little angry. Doing the asking makes me nervous and uneasy. That’s because in today’s culture we are judged by our money and our possessions. What we have, and what we do with what we have, is a very real part of who we are. Money represents our time, it defines our work and it marks the value of our talents. When we are asked to give, our emotions are stirred, we feel as if we are under attack and we become defensive.
Throughout the Gospel Jesus warns us that if we are not careful, money would not just be a part of us, it would become all of us. A dollar sign could replace the cross as our symbol of life. The best way to keep this from happening is to consciously and freely share some of our wealth.
We all have our own unique financial circumstances and responsibilities. We all work to build a retirement fund that will afford us some level of independence and stability. As the dollar drops, our investments fall along with it. Taxes, fuel, and living expenses are all increasing. We ask ourselves, “How much should I give and how much I should keep?” To answer that question we need to look at what is most important in our lives. What do I put my faith in, the dollar sign or the cross? What is the ultimate goal that directs my life?” I would not ask you to do anything that I would not do. After prayerful discernment I have pledged a monthly amount to the Church. I could argue that I do not have to make any gift, after all I have given my entire life to the Church. But the generosity of my parishioners who give so much, makes me question my own generosity and the importance I put on the money I have. It would be easy to just let them carry the responsibility. But I also need to make a sacrificial gift that puts my love of God and his people first.
The amount of our donation is not important. The true worth of your gift stems from your attitude to money and where it stands in your relationship to God. We have all heard that “Money is the root of all evil.” Psychologically that phrase is very appealing because it lets us off the hook, it allows us to separate our money from our faith. But Jesus warns us it is the love of money that leads to all kinds of evil. It is the overpowering love of money that makes us want to keep more and share less.
In all our giving it is not the amount of the gift that matters, it is how much of yourself you give with the gift. Whether we give out of an abundance of wealth or out of extreme poverty, our giving should reflect Jesus’s sacrifice as well as his trust in God to provide what we need. Take a step towards honest Christian stewardship and make your resources part of your faith.”
Just like Rev. Michael Busch, none of us likes asking for money. What I ask is that as members of the Salesian College Community, you think about the message we want our boys to hear as we mold them into the young men we want them to be. To the best of your ability, I ask that you support us in educating our boys of the need to help others less fortunate than ourselves, bringing the rein of God’s kingdom to life in this world.