It has been a looong 5 months. For one, I started attending graduate school for my theological degree. This has been an exciting, joyful and tiring experience. Secondly, my wife and I started a new ministry as house managers for a transitional house for recently arrived refugees.
Ministry has been an overwhelming experience in these past couples of months. We are housing two families, plus our foster daughter, in one flat. The 12 of us can barely fit in our spaces. As an introvert, I feel incredibly stretched out.
My current ministry experience has left me thinking a lot on the virtue of Charity. Let me explain why.
There is a member of our household that I'm finding a hard time to love. This member is a toddler whose default setting seems to be set on "cry." I know all toddlers are infamous for their tantrums but I am convinced we are dealing with a peculiar case here.
After many months of crying, tantrums, breaking havoc and little to no efforts to curb the child's behavior I am left with a sense of anger towards the child. This anger can at times feel like is edging towards hate. This realization, of course, leaves me greatly troubled. Am I really giving into hate?
There is a struggle that stirs constantly inside of me as I fight against any notions of hate. I want to love this child, not hate the child I tell myself. I'm starting to realize, however, that it is possible to love in the midst of feelings of anger, and yes, even feelings of hate.
The Virtue of Charity
What is the virtue of Charity? It is helpful to first describe what it is not.
Charity is not just benevolent giving. Our common definition of charity can be limited to the act of giving to a non-profit institution. The fact that many of these institutions are called "charities" only adds validity to this limiting definition.
Charity, or Caritas in latin, can better be described as agape love, that is, a love that is not depended on or even connected to feelings, a love that seeks the best for others and is even willing to sacrifice oneself for the sake of the other. Charity is not a matter of elusive and at times uncontrollable feelings. Charity is a matter of will.
We are surrounded by situations that can trigger in us a cocktail of emotions. Sometimes these emotions are too difficult to control. It is hard not to feel frustrated when we are late and stuck in a traffic jam, for example. If something as important and fundamental as love is dependent on feelings then we have little reasons to be hopeful for the future of the human race.
Jesus' command to love our enemies would be ludicrous under these circumstances.
Charity & The Holy Spirit
Charity is connected with the fruits of the Holy Spirit of Joy and, of course, Love that are found in Galatians 5.
Joy springs from the knowledge and experience of loving and being loved. For many of us, our most joyful experiences have been one of loving and being loved by God and by others. In fact, I remember distinctly how my early days of my conversion were filled with unspeakable joy.
As we have seen throughout this series on the 7 virtues, the fruits of the Holy Spirit can be considered in a hierarchical order, with Joy and Love being at the top of the ladder. For these reasons, Joy and Love are closely connected.
The Virtue of Charity for the Postmodern World
We can practice Charity by redeeming the word from the ethos of "benevolent giving." This ethos is not only reductionist but also cheapens Charity to a mere marketing term. Charity, or the giving to charities, is now something that one can buy with a donation.
Real Charity, however, is costly, and not merely in a monetary sense. Real Charity demands that all of our senses and beings (body, spirit, soul) are involved. Real Charity demands that we give ourselves to a cause, a group of people or an individual.
Real Charity demands more than our money (along with the tax returns benefits). Real Charity demands our whole selves. Real Charity is the most dangerous endeavor we can ever undertake.
Our world needs more committed people who are willing to give themselves up to something other than themselves. Our world needs us to move from inspiration to sacrifice. It needs not our catchphrases, our likes, and shares on social media. Our world needs our painful dedication.
Move beyond the realm of intellectual assent and verbal affirmations. Move instead into the realm of God, where to die is to live and to give is to gain.
Spend yourself in a ministry, a social justice cause, or the Other, and do so with agape love. Give until it hurts, for Charity demands that we get ourselves into uncomfortable positions that will shatter our comfort zones.
Practice the wild, unrestrained and risky virtue of Charity, the greatest of all virtues, for in its practice you will find life by dying to yourself.