The Source of Christian Charity

Author: Cardinal Robert Sarah

The Source of Christian Charity

Cardinal Robert Sarah

Intervention by the Cardinal President of the Pontifical Council 'Cor Unum' at the 2012 Annual Gathering of Catholic Chairities USA in St Louis

I am grateful for this opportunity to speak with you and participate in this annual gathering of Catholic Charities USA, which also marks my first time visiting the United States. I also thank your President, Fr Larry Snyder, both for his invitation to speak to you and his dedicated leadership and service to Catholic Charities USA. I greet each one of you from the many Dioceses and organizations that you represent. Here in the United States, Catholic Charities USA are well known among other Catholic charitable organizations for providing an impressive array of charitable works: from programs for health care for the elderly and children, work with sick patients, assistance to expectant mothers, and adoption services to feed and legally protect the poor. Also, I am especially happy to greet Catholic Charities of St Louis which is celebrating the centennial anniversary of its foundation. Since its beginning in 1912, Catholic Charities of St Louis has grown to become an effective instrument of Gospel love and service to the poor and needy of the State of Missouri. Operating at present with a network of eight agencies, you offer more than too programs to benefit more than 157,000 people annually. To all of you and to all the selfless faithful here in America who give of their time, talents and treasure to care for those in need, in the name of the Church and the Holy Father, I thank you!

As you well know, "Cor Unum", my Dicastery at the Vatican, is entrusted with the concrete realization of the Holy Father's charitable intentions, particularly when disaster strikes somewhere in the world. Our task is to encourage and coordinate the organizations and charitable activities promoted by the Catholic Church. "Cor Unum" also works to foster the catechesis of Charity and support the faithful to give a concrete witness to evangelical charity. Since coming to "Cor Unum", I have been able to gain greater awareness of the charitable works and programs of Catholic charitable organizations from all over the world.

Each year, Catholic CharitiesUSA through the generosity of over 300,000 of its volunteers lends its services in favour of the poor. This certainly confirms that the experience of God's generous love challenges us and liberates us to adopt the same attitude towards our brothers and sisters. Since the beginning of the history of the Church in the United States, this personal experience of Christ's love has been the unifying force that moves Catholic men and women of all ages to get involved in works of mercy, justice and compassion for the poor. Numerous Catholic charitable institutions and structures have been established to assist orphans, immigrants, ethnic groups and all people in need. Countless Americans of different walks of life have made the service to the poor their whole dedication. There have also been religious, men and women who have sacrificed their whole lives to be witnesses of Gospel love through their generous service. The Church will always have a preferential love for the poor. Faithful to the Commandment of Jesus, she can never turn a blind eye to the sufferings of our unfortunate brothers and sisters. Indeed, we can all attest to this significant role that Catholic Charities has played in your nation's history. Catholic Charities has helped shape this service of Gospel love into an essential part of American culture.

The Catholic identity: our greatest iallenge and our 'gateway' to renewal

But, today, the Church in America, including Catholic Charities, faces challenges that threaten this heritage that as been passed on to us by previous generations. The times in which we live are characterized by an aggressive secularism that seeks to exclude the role of religion in public life and as a consequence, set up a culture without God, wherein everyone can live without the law of truth and love engraved in the heart of every human being by the Creator. Secularism seeks to substitute God and his divine law with personal opinions, ideologies, pleasures and needs. If God is taken out, only degradation and sufferings will follow. If good citizens are forced to leave aside their religious convictions, then society would not only exclude the contribution of religion, but also would promote a culture, which redefines man as less than what he is. If citizens whose moral judgments are informed by their religious beliefs are ignored, then democracy itself is emptied of real meaning. Pope Benedict XVI has already warned us of this troubling development. He said, "it is imperative that the entire Catholic community in the United States come to realize the grave threats to the Church's public moral witness presented by a radical secularism which finds increasing expression in the political and cultural spheres. The seriousness of these threats needs to be clearly appreciated at every level of ecclesial life. Of particular concern are certain attempts being made to limit that most cherished of American freedoms, the freedom of religion" (19 January 2012 address to the U.S. Bishops on a Ad limina Visit).

Catholic Charities are not exempt from being affected by this secularized mentality. In the past, some Catholic Charities have contracted with civil authority to provide foster care and adoption services. But recently, civil authority through its own legislation has tried to pressure Catholic adoption agencies to place children with same-sex couples, a clear violation of Catholic teachings. Catholic charitable agencies are given the choice to comply or withdraw from the adoption/care business. The economic and financial crisis that we are experiencing at every level in both the U.S. and in other continents continues to particularly affect the poorest of the poor, those who have no means of protection and security. In addition, more and more we often meet "new" forms of poverty in people who have lost their jobs or who have some fragile family situations. There are people who are often lost, in obvious difficulties that are not only economic.

Faced with these new and complex situations, we have to exercise an "intelligent" charity that is capable of listening and discernment; an organized charity that is capable of innovative responses to the crisis; a charity that understands the causes of the problems and is able to not only provide the needed services but also accompanies those who are in trouble. In these new situations of difficulty, we need to recognize the significant questions on the meaning of suffering and life. This is why we need to be able to give a comprehensive answer. In particular, we feel guided by a principle of faith, which is valid not only for our work "ad extra", but also within ("ad intra") our organizations: the defense of life from its beginning to its natural end.

Faced with these challenges in our service to the poor, we may be tempted to change our principles, to compromise and give in. Being faithful to our Catholic faith is not easy. It will even bring exclusion and persecution. In short, being authentically Catholic is in itself a great challenge for us in today's society. This reality is expected of us as followers of Jesus Crucified: "If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me" (Mt 16:24).

In an episode of the Gospel, we read that Peter walked on water to reach Jesus who was beckoning him to come. As long as Peter kept his eyes fixed on Jesus, the strong winds and the frightening waves could do him no harm. Pope Benedict XVI in the Apostolic Letter for the Year of Faith encourages us to put our hope in Christ. He said, "we will need to keep our gaze fixed upon Jesus Christ, the "pioneer and perfecter of our faith" (Heb 12:2): in him, all the anguish and all the longing of the human heart finds fulfillment. The joy of love, the answer to the drama of suffering and pain, the power of forgiveness in the face of an offence received and the victory of life over the emptiness of death: all this finds fulfillment in the mystery of his Incarnation, in his becoming man, in his sharing our human weakness so as to transform it by the power of his resurrection" (Porta Fidei, n. 13).

From a merely human point of view, we may think that such difficult circumstances can be an obstacle to freely realize the Church's mission of charity. On the contrary, I believe that such time and peculiar circumstances present us with an exceptional occasion to go back to the roots of our Catholic identity. Thus, our Catholic identity, besides being a challenge, is also a "gateway" to renewal for our charitable institutions. Catholic Charities USA is defined by a heritage that is Catholic, deeply connected to its roots in the Gospel and in the Catholic teaching and tradition. Tapping into our Catholic roots will be a source of renewal for you and will help you to rediscover and appreciate this great treasure, which is our Catholic faith and tradition. How appropriate and opportune that Pope Benedict XVI, on the occasion of proclaiming the Year of Faith, in his Apostolic Letter "Door of Faith", points out the importance of faith in our charitable work: "Faith without charity bears no fruit, while charity without faith would be a sentiment constantly at the mercy of doubt. Indeed, many Christians dedicate their lives with love to those who are lonely, marginalized or excluded ... because it is in them that the reflection of Christ's own face is seen. Through faith, we can recognize the face of the risen Lord in those who ask for our love" (Porta Fidei, n. 14).

Roots of Christian charity

Having reflected on the significant role that our Catholic beliefs played in our charitable works and the need to renew it, I wish now to focus more on the "Christian character" of our charity. What makes a charitable agency "Christian"? This is the question that I wish to treat.

Pope Benedict XVI, in the Introduction of Deus Caritas Est pointed out to us the answer: "God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him" (1 John 4:16). These words, he says, express "with remarkable clarity the heart of the Chris:ian faith" (n. 1). In order to begin to grasp the Church's ancient confession, "God is love", Pope Benedict believes that two actions are needed simultanously: love of God and love of neighbor. When one of the scribes asked, "Which is the first of all the commandments", Jesus replied, "The First is this: 'Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength'. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself . There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mk 12:29-31). Holding together this double commandment, the Pope seems to say, is key to understanding the raison d'etre of the Church's charitable activity. Faith and life are indissolubly linked together; the one implies the other. Indeed, Christian life implies the living out of faith, hope and love. This is what makes charity "Christian". It is what gives Christian charity its specific and irreplaceable identity.

In the first lines of Deus Caritas Est, the Pope describes what "makes" a Christian: "being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a Person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction" (n. 1). God lets himself be so moved by man's situation that he becomes body given out and blood poured out in Christ in such a way that "we enter into the very dynamic of his self-giving" (n. 13). For the one who accepts God's primordial love, love is the answer to the gift of love. It becomes visible in the men and women who reflect his presence.

Therefore, love of God and love of neighbor; being inseparable formed a single commandment. They are the source from which flows all the Church's practice of Love. This is what makes a charitable organization "Christian".

Essential characteristics of Christian charity

How is the splendor of Christian Charity manifest in the organizations that we represent? Again, the Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, I believe, offers at least three insights that are particularly helpful for Catholic charitable institutions to deepen their knowledge and appreciation of their unique identity.

(1) Christian Charity is an essential part of the Church's mission

First, the practice of love — charitable activity (diakonia) — along with the proclamation of God's Word (kerygma-martyria) and the celebration of the sacraments (leitourgia), is of the very essence of the Church's mission. For the Church exists in this world as the instrument of God's will: "His will was that men should have access to the Father through Christ, the Word made flesh, in the Holy Spirit, and thus become sharers in the divine nature" (Dei Verbum, n. 2). Through the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the sacraments and the practice of charity, the Church's mission is to give all women and men a share in the divine nature of the God who is love — Deus Caritas Est. In this way, it is possible to accomplish what is the mission of Church.

The mutual bond of the three ecclesial munera brings us back to the intrinsic bond between charity and evangelization. We are on the eve of the Synod of the New Evangelization, which begins next week in Rome and which represents a new challenge for all our charitable organizations during this Year of Faith.
We can start with a simple question: What is the connection between our charitable action and evangelization? If our charitable action is an ecclesial action, then of course it is permeated by the Gospel. It is necessary to distinguish at least three levels.

The first is our action towards the poorest of the poor. We cannot consider them only as needy, but we must also see them as children of God, who as such, also need his Word, his presence and his consolation. In this way, we bring them the message of the Gospel and not only to satisfy certain material needs. We give them bread and the Word.

Secondly, our organization can make a contribution to the New Evangelization simply by approach-
ing those without faith. There are many who are open, while not believing or having a weak faith, and in fact are already working in our organizations. Even so, the exercise of charity can be a help to develop their faith, since evangelization and diakonia are connected. We can ask ourselves how our organizations approach these people who are distant from their faith in order to offer them to collaborate with us, and in this way discover the community of the Church and faith in Christ.

But there is another level: which is the formation through the Gospel of all those who are working in charitable organizations. The Pope speaks of "formation of the heart". How can we evangelize ourselves within our organizations, allowing the Gospel to penetrate our sentiments and our thoughts so that our work reveals God who has called us? What can we do in our organizations to link together charity and evangelization in the life of those who work with us? The pastoral priorities of the New Evangelization should also be taken up by our organizations, since they are organizations of the Church.

Another aspect of this ecclesial nature is the link with the Pastors of the Church. Every Catholic charitable work should function faithfully within the mission and structure of the local diocese, with special respect for the role of the Bishop. This ecclesial communion is essential to our mission. The link with the Church and her global mission should not be perceived as an obstacle or a limitation in regards to the problems we face, but instead must be understood as a condition of possibility so that our action may be implemented and fully understood.

(2) Christian charity serves the integral person

There is a second insight of Deus Caritas Est that I believe is particularly helpful for the Church's charitable institutions everywhere and particularly helpful in America.

The charitable assistance given by the Church in Western countries is often supplied in close cooperation with governments and society, both of which has some influence on its orientation. Therefore, in our time and day, charitable activity demands a high degree of professionalism, and having access to public funds requires the agencies to constantly enhance their technical structure. Labor contracts and action
plans, the entire concept of subsidies and the need to account for their intended use, require an administration of the highest quality. We should not complain about this, since "individuals who care for those in need must first be professionally competent: they should be properly trained in what to do and how to do it, and committed to continuing care" (DCE, n. 31a).

However, for Christian charity, this professionalism can bring with it a certain pragmatism, which can entail
a loss of the more profound sense of giving. Pope Benedict in his Encyclical Deus Caritas Est, is evidently aware of this danger. Indeed, he pointed out "while professional competence is a primary, fundamental requirement, it is not of itself sufficient. We are dealing with human beings, and human beings always need something more than technically proper care. They need humanity. They need heartfelt concern. Those who work for the Church's charitable organizations must be distinguished by the fact that they do not merely meet the needs of the moment, but they dedicate themselves to others with heartfelt concern, enabling them to experience the richness of their humanity" (DCE, n. 31a).

Indeed, Man cannot be divided into parts: public or private, physical or psychological, earthly or heavenly, religious or profane. Rather, he must be seen in his wholeness and integrity as he stands before the heavenly Father. This is why Christian charity is always at the service of the integral person, body and soul. Only with such a holistic approach to the person can we find solutions to the roots of his problems and help him to develop fully his personality.

(3) Christian charity draws its source from prayer

There is a third insight of Deus Caritas Est that I believe is fundamental to the distinct identity of the Church's charitable organizations. Love cannot be given to one's brothers and sisters unless it has first been drawn from the genuine source of divine Charity, and this happens only in prolonged moments of prayer, of listening to the word of God, of receiving the Sacraments and of adoring the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life. Blessed John Paul II affirms that "only a worshiping and praying Church can show herself sufficiently sensitive to the needs of the sick, the suffering, the lonely especially in the great urban centers — and the poor everywhere" (Address to U.S. Bishops in Ad Limina, 3 December 1983).

The Encyclical Deus Caritas Est focuses on the "spirituality" of those working in charitable agencies. "...In addition to their necessary professional training, these charity workers need a 'formation of the heart': they need to be led to that encounter with God in Christ which awakens their love and opens their spirits to others..." (DCE, n. 31a).

Service to our neighbors, therefore, also makes demands upon the heart, not primarily in the emotional sense, but in the very rational decision to desire the best for the other person, even at the price of self-sacrifice. To each of you, volunteers and aid workers of Catholic Charities USA, the Holy Father recognizes your service and dedication to the poor. He calls you "an important phenomenon of our time" (n. 30b). As President of "Cor Unum", I am deeply thankful for each one of you who have contributed to the Church's charitable mission throughout the United States. You are a bright light of hope in a society often oppressed by egotistical darkness. By dedicating yourselves to the diakonia, you take on the opposite of reputation, power, and rank that leaders and political entities claim for themselves.

Furthermore, the Pope emphasizes prayer as the source by which the aid worker's faith can be reinvigorated. This faith is threatened by the experience of "the immensity of others' needs," which, as Benedict writes, "might tempt us to become discouraged". It also might lead us to lose faith in God's providence, abandoning any hope that he could solve the problems raised, or to fall into an arrogant contempt for man, leading us to sacrifice human dignity and to destroy rather than building up. It is not unusual for aid workers, both outside and inside the Church, to be under the impression that their efforts are futile.

Pope Benedict teaches us instead that charitable service gains strength from prayer to the Lord of Heaven and Earth. With his eye on the activism and threatening atheism of our time, the Pope insists anew on the need for time to be devoted to the worship of God. He demands it especially of those who are professionally involved in love of neighbor. In prayer, the Christian does not claim to be able to change God's plan or correct what he has foreseen. Rather, he or she seeks "an encounter with the Father of Jesus Christ, asking God to be present with the consolation of the Spirit to him and his work. Much less does one raise oneself to be a judge of God, "accusing him of allowing poverty and failing to have compassion for his creatures. When people claim to build a case against God in defense of man, on whom can they depend when human activity proves powerless?" (n. 37).

Concluding remarks

In such a difficult time, living faithfully our Christian heritage is itself a challenge. But, our Catholic identity can also be truly a "gateway" of renewal and a sure path to bearing lasting fruit in our charitable work. All
that I have told you, is eloquently summarized in St Paul's hymn of charity, where he points out to us the best program for our charitable work: "Set your mind on the higher gifts. And now I am going to put before you the best way of all... Though I should give away to the poor all that I possess, and even give up my body to be burned — if I am without love, it will do me no good whatever. Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances. Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but finds its joy in truth. It is always ready to make allowances, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes" (1 Cor 12:30-31; 13: 1-8).

In fact, the lives of the Saints bear witness that it is possible, with the grace of God, to live out this Christian love. How many Saints and Blesseds there are who have loved in this way! Their works of love and service to the poor have endured through the ages. Look at St Elizabeth Ann Seton's mission to the poor and underprivileged in terms of schooling, St Francis Cabrini's tireless efforts towards defenseless immigrants, and St Katherine Drexel's concern for the oppressed Native Americans and Blacks. When we truly live out this hymn of charity in our own personal lives and in our organization, then all our charitable activities realized in the name of the Church will also endure; because "love never comes to an end" (1 Cor 13:8).

I thank you for your attention.

Taken from:
L'Osservatore Romano
Weekly Edition in English
3 October 2012, page 8

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