By Holy See Mission
ON THE CHRISTIAN NOTION OF CHARITY Thoughts for the International Day of Charity Despite tremendous progress in science and technology, countless millions continue to endure various forms of poverty, not only material but also – and increasingly – spiritual. Thanks in large measure to the means of social communication, the plight of the poor and suffering is no longer a distant cry for help but one that reaches the attentions of many. A growing sensitivity to those in need and a willingness to respond is becoming universally perceptible. This heightened solidarity with the less fortunate and desire to share in their situations and difficulties is heartily to be welcomed. Two reasons for this increase in solidarity on the part of so many people and organizations engaged in charitable works were identified by Pope Benedict XVI. First among these is the innate desire in every human being to love and be loved. This urge to love is inscribed in the nature of everyone, regardless of their religion. Ultimately, it is love, in all its multifaceted shades, that drives or animates us in all of our activity. The second reason is more explicitly religious, for it is the Christian impulse in the world which “constantly revives and acts out this imperative, so often profoundly obscured in the course of time" (DCE n. 31). With its deeper understanding of love, Christianity has made significant contributions to the culture of humanity. The ancients interpreted love either as eros, a self-seeking impulse, or alternatively, as philia, a sentiment characteristic of friendship. The Christian understanding of a God-who-is-love reveals how each human being has love as his very raison d’être and requires in response that this love be transformed into its highest form, agape, namely: the gift of self to the other. This notion of love, accordingly, no longer is satisfied with self-seeking (eros) or even reciprocity (philia), but demands true concern for the other – even a willingness to sacrifice one’s own self for the other. The novelty of this Christian notion of love (caritas) is found in the figure of Christ crucified: the one who holds back not even his own life for the sake of the world. From the beginning, the Church, following the instruction and example of her Founder, and in His name, has never wavered in tendering whatever material and spiritual comfort she could offer to the poor and suffering. For, beyond the merely pragmatic (or philanthropic) aspect of helping one's neighbor, the Church seeks more profoundly to manifest to the world God's enduring love for humanity. Few are those who are not moved when confronted with the suffering neighbor; but fewer yet are those who grasp that Christian charity pursues a meaning that supersedes the risk of paternalism inherent in philanthropy. Charity manifests a truer sense of care and compassion, communicating authentic love to the poor and suffering, since it stems not from excess or return but from the very sacrifice of self. In the exercise of Christian charity, the Church gives on what she has herself received from God. This Christian notion of charity, furthermore, is authentically at the service of integral human development. Charitable activities in our times require from their agencies both high degrees of professionalism and constantly enhancing and empowering structures. Whereas this is, doubtless, necessary, it is scarcely of itself sufficient. Dealing with transcendent human beings means grappling with actual persons who always need something more than merely technical assistance or philanthropic care. People cannot be compartmentalized into their constituent parts: public or private, physical or psychological, earthly or heavenly, religious or secular. Rather, each person can only truly be seen in their wholeness and integrity. Only a holistic approach to the person permits of solutions to the root causes of their problems and helps them develop fully in their corporeal and incorporeal dimensions. Countless men and women throughout the history of the Church have given witness to an heroic degree of selfless love toward their neighbors. The Church is particularly happy that the international community, by designating precisely September 5th as the first International Day of Charity, wishes to recognize the extraordinary witness of charity exemplified in recent times by Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The motivation and reason for the Church’s mission of charity is none other than Jesus Christ Himself, and the desire to bear witness to His love. In her tireless work for the poor and the outcast this was also Blessed Mother Teresa's inspiration and strength. Her life’s witness of love derived from what Christ taught. In the service of charity, Mother Teresa sought not merely to provide humanitarian relief or to change social structures. As she clearly stated at her Nobel Lecture: "We are not just social workers. We may be doing social work in the eyes of the people, but we are really contemplatives in the heart of the world, for we are touching the Body of Christ twenty-four hours" (December 11, 1979). Her life and example continue to challenge the Church’s charitable organizations to be faithful to their specific identity and in their work to always defend and promote life. The Catholic Church is grateful that an International Day of Charity is introduced for the first time into the calendar of the United Nations in memory of Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Honoring her person, life and legacy also means recognizing the innumerable charitable works the Catholic Church carries out daily in favor of the poorest of the poor, ever faithful to the commandment and example of her Founder. In fact, the Catholic Church remains the world’s largest non-governmental provider of education and health service delivering no less than 26% of the world's health care. So many Catholic charitable organizations work indefatigably for humanitarian relief and development throughout the poorest regions of the world. We are proud to commemorate this day as an act of recognition and esteem on the part of the international community for the service and dedication of countless individuals, Catholic organizations and religious men and women, who like Blessed Mother Teresa, have brought the light of their selfless love to those in need.
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