Among the many things that Christ taught His disciples, charity is one of the principles focus groups in office buildings would label as a “core value.” He told us to love one another as we love ourselves, to clothe the naked and feed the hungry. Through a parable, He admonished those of us who ostentatiously hand over a dollar to the collection plate versus the poor widow who tossed in her life savings in the hope of helping someone else. One could surmise that love for the good of another is at the heart of true charity, and without this internal motivation, charitable acts in themselves are inherently worthless.
Christ laid this charge on each of us and so it is our individual responsibility to help those in need. I could greatly digress on the completely warped perception of what is needed in today’s society, but for the sake of this article, suffice it to say that we need three physical things: food, clothing, and shelter. Everything else is superfluous to include fancy cars, the latest iPhone, very expensive clothes, etc. Since we all bear this responsibility to our fellow man as given to us by Jesus, there have been different ways throughout the centuries that we have fulfilled (or unfulfilled) this burden. We can give resources, mainly money, to individuals in need, or we can give our money to organizations that use our donations to perform charitable acts. It is our responsibility to ensure we are donating our money wisely and also to discern if merely giving money is the most we can do to fulfill our God-given responsibility.
In today’s age of government handouts and sweeping welfare programs, one can easily get lost in the thick jungle of bureaucracy and lose a sense of charitable purpose. Our taxes go to a national federal collection plate where they are spent many times over on welfare programs and other government handouts. (The US public debt is currently over 17 TRILLION dollars) With all of these programs, it is certainly easy to think that our personal responsibility to help those in need is solved, isn’t it? All we have to do is refer that struggling family over to the department of social services and go on our merry way to buy that extra large latte. The latest government monstrosity that has come about is what is commonly referred to as “Obamacare.” Yep, now the government is going to be subsidizing health insurance. Forget that insurance does not equal actual health care, but at least we can all be covered now, right?
Caring for the sick certainly falls into a subsection of charity, so when something like Obamacare rolls out, we Christians can rejoice that the sick can be taken care of and we can go about our lives and not have to worry about it. It doesn’t matter that this program has been an unmitigated disaster so far (I’m not gonna leave a link, just Google it. Trust me it’s there), or that there are millions of people who are losing their current coverage or seeing their costs skyrocket. Now when we see someone who is sick and desperate we can refer them to the fully functioning and easy to access healthcare.gov. (That was sarcasm, just so ya know) The government has now taken the burden of responsibility of charity from all of us, as well as more of our money, and is helpfully reaching out to give food, subsidized housing, cash assistance, free cars, free cell phones, and now free health care. I mean, from each according to his ability, to each according to his need, right? We don’t have to think about it anymore, the government will take care of everybody.
Let’s all take a step back to reality. Creating monstrous programs that plunge us further into crippling debt, that play on people’s fears and buy their votes, that subsidize immoral practices is an evil that the US has allowed to come about through it’s own negligence. Just as when the means of production is owned by a few a certain slavery is created, that same slavery is created when the people’s earnings are taken from them and distributed in the name of charity. The good intentions that pave the way to the inferno also pave the way to the great social programs that befall nations. Socialism and communism in all their forms are not charitable, but erase the beauty of the individual and spread economic suffering to the masses all in the name of helping them. They do not work. Period.
And there lies the crux of the situation. By sitting back and feeling good about ourselves while unsustainable programs are created that dole out fist-fulls of cash to the masses, we actually allow a tyranny to emerge. This tyranny creates a dependency on something that is historically undependable. If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, should we not be wary of those who are in power even under the best circumstances? When government confiscates more of our wealth, (and I’m not talking about those “rich guys” on Wall Street or the ones with CEO on the doors of their corner offices) uses it for abortion, contraception, and the like, we bear some of the responsibility because at some point, a lot more of us thought it would be a good idea than we would like to admit. A lot of us didn’t get speak up when we had the chance. Through those wonderful intentions that lead to Gehenna, we allow it to be built before our very eyes by enslaving people to a meager living.
Let me take a step back for a minute. I know that there is a whole boat load of people out there that have been hurt badly by the economic downturn over the last few years. There are people who have had to go to extraordinary lengths just to put food on the table. I’m not deriding those who have had to go on some kind of program just to make ends meet. I’m just saying that we cannot go forward without taking a serious look at how we take care of those who struggle to make ends meet. I merely think that we Catholics, especially some of our more liberal friends, should really discern what true charity is all about. Is it merely referencing someone to go on foodstamps, which rarely are enough anyways, or providing material needs while also bringing the Good News of Christ to them while recognizing His presence in the poor.
Pope Francis recently had some interesting insights into the Church as a charity organization. He said ““In this, the Church is like Mary,” he continued. “The Church is not a shop, she is not a humanitarian agency, the Church is not an NGO. The Church is sent to bring Christ and his Gospel to all. She does not bring herself — whether small or great, strong or weak, the Church carries Jesus and should be like Mary when she went to visit Elizabeth.” It’s interesting to note that he said the Church isn’t an NGO, or Non-Government Organization. The Church isn’t just meant to hurl bowls of soup and some blankets at the homeless. That is not charity. If we are not bringing the joy and peace of Christ to people as we tend their physical needs, it is no longer charity but mechanically going through the motions. (here’s the article with the Pope’s quotes)
To summarize, we can all recognize that Christ is the Prince of Peace. He is also the source of true freedom. An act of charity should, among other things, be essentially rooted in the peace of Christ and in the freedom that He brings. That freedom is the freedom from sin, vice, and also the freedom to love and serve Him more faithfully. Acts of charity that enslave people through dependency and also allow others to casually shrug off their own burdens of responsibility to others create a tyranny under which all suffer.