Charity is love and love is charity… But, when we give to charities are we acting in love?
1 Corinthians 13:1-8
- Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal.
- And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.
- And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.
- Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,
- Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;
- Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;
- Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
- Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away.
St. Paul says that I could give everything that I own in order to feed the poor but, if this act of charity is not an act of love, then it is not what God wants for me. St. Paul also says that I could be a brilliant preacher and the most knowledgeable of all theologians, possessing the most undaunted faith – but if I am not a loving person then my words are just sounds like tin cans clanking and I myself am less than dirt. Love is the transforming difference. Love is all.
So, let me measure my “acts of charity”, my “words of wisdom”, and my “understanding of God” by the only measure that is worthwhile: love. Prestige among people, earthly power, and even my own feelings are mere things that are fickle and fleeting – only love endures all things. Only love stands the test of time and space – only love is eternal. When I want to do good, when I want to be good, I should think deeply about my motives and ponder these questions in my heart:
Do I want to be good so that other people will like me? If so, then I do not act in love.
Do I want to be good so that God will reward me with eternal paradise? If so, then I do not act in love.
Do I want to do good and be good so that I will impress others, become known (maybe even famously recognized) as a good person, having people seek me out for my wisdom? If so, then they do not act in love.
Do I want to be good so that I will be remembered by people for my goodness and good deeds after I am dead? If so, then I do not act in love.
Do I want to be good because I want to be truthful? Now we’re getting somewhere…
Do I want to do good because I seek the truth?… And closer still. For love rejoices in the truth. And truth is the opposite of error, of inequity. So, if I am a loving person, I will seek to put right what is wrong, I will seek to heal what is broken, I will seek to fill what is truly lacking and satisfy what is wrongfully unsatisfied – not because I want, in turn, to receive thanks, recognition, or reward, but because I LOVE. Pure and simple love flowing from my heart to heal and fill and satisfy those who are in need. And I will do this in the best way that I am able. Love may be given in the forms of food and drink, shelter and clothing, sanitation and medicine. Or love may be given in the forms of an attentive ear and a shoulder to cry on, counseling and advice, clarifying thoughts and direction. Love is always given in true concern for the true welfare of the other. We are created so that we will – we exist in order to – love God with all our hearts and all our souls and all our strength and all our minds. This is the truth of who we are. We are to love God and, as all of us human beings are images of God, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves – as God loves us so we are to love God and one another.
You may be wondering, as I do often think, how can we continually give ourselves in loving kindness? People are often ungrateful and undeserving, being cruel and crass – but we are not to give in order to get gratitude nor are we to forget that every person is created in the image of God and therefore always deserving of love. Love suffers long and bears all things. And when we truly love we don’t get puffed up when we get the recognition that we think we deserve, nor do we envy other people for the praise and rewards that they may be getting, nor do we delight when others get the punishment that we think they deserve – we don’t think about ourselves at all. We are like Christ in this – look at a crucifix. We LOVE.
Do you not believe that this is possible? I doubt it sometimes. But… Love believes all things. “Nothing is impossible for God…” and “God is LOVE”. This is the gospel truth.