In this issue:
Love and charity are accented heavily during the annual season of Lent.
My Lenten sacrifices should deepen my commitment to love.
How will you show this love for others this Lent?
By David Gibson/Catholic News Service
The sound of cymbals can add amazingly to the music of an orchestra or band. But a concert only of cymbals is hard for me to imagine. The loud, crashing sound of cymbals played alone for an hour or more might send an audience scurrying away, covering their ears with their hands.
St. Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians employed the image of a “clashing cymbal” to devastating effect to help explain that there is no substitute for love in the Christian way of life (13:1-13). Paul wrote, “If I speak in human and angelic tongues, but do not have love, I am a resounding gong or a clashing cymbal.”
Speaking in the frankest of terms Paul said that “if I have the gift of prophecy and comprehend all mysteries and all knowledge; if I have all faith so as to move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Paul did not say that Christians must be nothing less than perfect in each and every attempt to express love. Thank goodness for that! But it distorts faith to classify love as just a secondary concern, he seemed to suggest.
No wonder love and charity — among Christians, these terms function virtually as synonyms — are accented heavily during the annual season of Lent. To contend at this time with Christ’s call to share love and to wrestle with the demands of love in a complex, conflicted and polarized world is to attempt to come to terms with the very heart of Christianity as a way of living.
Many know Lent as a special opportunity to practice charity by contributing money or food to people who cannot meet their basic needs or to organizations that serve them. This almsgiving is, indeed, a central Lenten goal. It is a vital dimension of Christian charity, which is a multilayered virtue.
Still, what truly defines charity for many Christian thinkers is the Christ-like way it aims to touch others’ lives. That means that recognizing the human dignity of these others is essential to Christian charity’s practice.
Recently, Pope Francis urged believers to pay close attention to the manner in which they attempt to serve people in need. Otherwise, their way of extending charity might shade any love in their action from view.
During his January 2018 visit to Chile, he mentioned the value of “coming out of our homes and looking at people’s faces,” and of “going out of our way to meet someone having a difficult time, someone who has not been treated as a person.”
I’m sure his words apply to many kinds of giving, whether that means money, food, kindness or other forms of support for others. But in a February 2017 interview he called attention particularly to what transpires when giving money to beggars.
How we reach out to those requesting help makes a real difference, the pope observed. This must be done, he said, “by looking them in the eyes and touching their hands.” For, “one can look at a homeless person and see him as a person or else as if he were a dog.”
So Christian love — charity, that is — recognizes a person’s unique dignity. In the Christian vision people are meant to be noticed and, when possible, addressed by name, as the weak, ailing beggar Lazarus was in Luke’s Gospel (16:19-31).
It is notable in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that Luke introduces a beggar by name. This highlights Lazarus’ dignity as a person. Yet, the parable assigns no personal name to the rich man, who takes little, if any, notice of Lazarus, who was “lying at his door,” his body “covered with sores.” Lazarus hoped for only scraps of food from the rich man’s table.
“Love makes us similar, it creates equality, it breaks down walls and eliminates distances,” Pope Francis remarked in his 2014 message for Lent. He added that in addressing someone’s material poverty or lack of basic necessities, it is Christ who is addressed. For, “in the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face.”
Charity can be expressed in many ways and contexts, extended to individuals or communities, to family members, friends, neighbors, strangers and, yes, people we find difficult or who, perhaps, find us difficult. But “it is thrilling,” the pope said, to console “broken hearts” and to offer hope to people who experience darkness.
Love’s parameters are broad. What love will ask can never be anticipated fully. Love proves to be most demanding.
As Paul told the Corinthians, “love is patient,” and it is “kind.” It is not “jealous” or “rude” and “does not seek its own interests.” Neither does it “brood over injury.”
Lent focuses intently on conversion, which makes it a season that poses two vital questions: What will we turn toward? What — that perhaps is of less value or none — will we turn from?
Turn toward love, Paul surely would urge 21st-century Christians. Turn toward the challenging yet rewarding life of charity that makes so much difference.
(Gibson served on Catholic News Service’s editoral staff for 37 years.)
By Effie Caldarola/Catholic News Service
“Beth” teaches high school English as a second language, and many of her students are from the city’s large refugee community. When one of her students was frequently absent, which was affecting his progress, she discovered the reason was basic and solvable.
With the harsh Midwestern winter setting in, his family had no winter clothing. Walking to school in sandals and a T-shirt wasn’t cutting it in the cruel north wind. Beth discovered several refugee students faced the same problem.
She made a list of first names and sizes, and presented them to our faith sharing group. Who would take a name? Bags full of new boots, coats and gloves quickly appeared at Beth’s back door and school attendance picked up markedly.
Another person in our faith sharing group, “Mary,” visits a Somali man who is seeking asylum in the U.S. He has been jailed for 18 months as his case drags between a judge, who has granted him asylum, and U.S. Immigration and Custom Enforcement, which repeatedly appeals the judgment.
Mary has faithfully visited the man, offering friendship. Others have joined her, and others have provided financial support to his family members who have escaped to South Africa.
These are acts of charity, and although they did not all occur during the season of Lent, they were born out of the theological lesson of Lent lived out in faith, the lesson of Jesus’ life, passion and death all given as an example for us. They were born of love, which is the meaning of charity.
In our culture the word “charity” often has a limited connotation. Sometimes, we equate “charity” mainly with the check we write or the change we drop in the bell ringer’s bucket. These are important acts of charity.
But they are the fruit of a deeper meaning of charity, a love that becomes woven into the fabric of our lives. Pope Francis has said that charity is “the soul of the (church’s) mission.” For this reason, Lent should become for us not a 40-day checklist, but a school of love.
Vinita Hampton Wright writes that we should love “as if loving is the first thing on our to-do list.” We could make that our Lenten morning mantra. How will I love more generously today? How will I pay greater attention to others’ needs, whether my children and spouse, the irritating guy at the next desk, or the homeless in my city?
My Lenten sacrifices should deepen my commitment to love. Instead of giving up chocolate with an ulterior motive of losing five pounds, how will I let my “giving up” reach outward? Can I give up something that has definite monetary value, like a morning latte, and dedicate that money to a worthwhile cause?
Perhaps giving up screen time will help me intentionally focus more on my kids or give me the time to volunteer at a food pantry. Our sacrifice should change us and move us forward in loving.
In her book, “Mercy in the City: How to Feed the Hungry, Give Drink to the Thirsty, Visit the Imprisoned, and Keep Your Day Job,” Kerry Weber attempts to live out each of the corporal works of mercy during Lent.
The corporal works of mercy could become our roadmap for Lent, a template for love in action that will expand our love in the years and months ahead.
The example of Mary and Beth teaches us that being part of a faith community can provide us with opportunities to love that we might otherwise miss. Our parish community provides such opportunities. During Lent, offer to take the Eucharist to the homebound, participate in sponsoring a refugee family or support the parish food drive.
By Easter, you will find yourself changed by these experiences. You may find that loving has become a lot closer to the top of your to-do list.
(Caldarola is a freelance writer and a columnist for Catholic News Service.)
Both the Gospel according to John and the epistle 1 John emphasize God’s love for us and state that if we are to have a relationship with God, we must be people who have and show love for others.
As 1 John 4:7-8 expresses it, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is of God; everyone who loves is begotten by God and knows God. Whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
There are three words in Greek that are translated into the English word “love”: “philia,” meaning affection as for a friend or family member; “eros,” which is used to express sexual feelings; and “agape,” which according to Strong’s Bible Concordance means goodwill, benevolence and esteem.
Throughout the New Testament, including the Gospel and the epistle of John, the word “agape” is used most frequently to describe our love for God and God’s love for us. The same word is used to describe how we are to love our neighbor.
So in Mark 12:30-31 when Jesus gives us the two great commandments — to love God and neighbor with all our being — the word “agape” is used for both expressions of love.
This also explains why St. Paul’s exposition about love in 1 Corinthians 13:13 (“So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”) is often translated as “charity” to make clear that it means more than having general affection for others — we are to hold them in esteem and treat them with benevolence.
John focuses on the idea of the love of God in several places in the Gospel. In John 3:16, Jesus says that God’s love for us (“agape”) is so great that God is willing to make the greatest of sacrifices — allowing his own son to die for the benefit of others: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.”
In John 13:34-35, Jesus give his followers a new command: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also should love one another. This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
For Jesus, abiding in God — which is what it means to be a disciple — requires us to go beyond giving alms or being kind to others. If we are to abide in God, we must give fully of ourselves.
John also addresses our loving relationship with God in 14:15-23 and 15:9-13. Here again the message is the same: To abide with God, we are to be people of charity, people who love God and our neighbors with all our beings.
As the saying goes, we must be all in. How will you show this love for others this Lent?
(Mulhall is a catechist living in Louisville, KY.)
In his 2013 Lenten message, Pope Benedict XVI reflected on the relationship between faith and charity.
“The entire Christian life is a response to God’s love,” he said.
But God desires more than just our acceptance of his love, the pope said. God “wants to draw us to himself, to transform us” and “become like him, sharing in his own charity.”
Only when we open ourselves to God’s love and allow him to live in us, “only then does our faith become truly ‘active through love’ (Gal 5:6); only then does he abide in us (cf. Jn 4:12),” Pope Benedict said.
“Faith is knowing the truth and adhering to it (cf. 1 Tm 2:4); charity is ‘walking’ in the truth (cf. Eph 4:15),” the pope explained. “Through faith we enter into friendship with the Lord; through charity this friendship is lived and cultivated (cf. Jn 15:14ff),” he said.
Faith has a priority, the pope said, and precedes charity, but charity has a primacy and must “crown” faith.
“Everything begins from the humble acceptance of faith (‘knowing that one is loved by God’) but has to arrive at the truth of charity (‘knowing how to love God and neighbor’),” Pope Benedict said.
“Lent invites us,” he said, “to nourish our faith by careful and extended listening to the word of God and by receiving the sacraments, and at the same time to grow in charity and in love for God and neighbor, not least through the specific practices of fasting, penance and almsgiving.”