On Wednesday September 5, the world will observe the International Day of Charity. The UN states: “Charity, like the notions of volunteerism and philanthropy, provides real social bonding and contributes to the creation of inclusive and more resilient societies. Charity can alleviate the worst effects of humanitarian crises, supplement public services in healthcare, education, housing, and child protection. It assists the advancement of culture, science, sports, and the protection of cultural and natural heritage. It also promotes the rights of the marginalized and underprivileged and spreads the message of humanity in conflict situations.”
In many ways we in T&T are a charitable people. We thank God for the hundreds of NGOs, CBOs, FBOs that are engaged in charitable work. Without their invaluable contribution, the plight of many of our citizens and those we support abroad would be even more dire. While we reflect on the importance of the virtue of charity, let’s remember the words of St Augustine: “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” Pope Pius XI’s words are also pertinent: “Charity will never be true charity unless it takes justice into account … Let no one attempt with small gifts of charity to exempt himself from the great duties imposed by justice.”
Pope Francis constantly reminds us of our duties to engage both in spiritual and corporal works of mercy as well as works of social action (the promotion of justice). These are integral elements of the Christian way of life. He rightly said: “None of us can think we are exempt from concerns for the poor and for social justice…Jesus tells us what the ‘protocol’ is, on which we will be judged. It is the one we read in chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel.”
Charity involves more than feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead. We must also strive to address the root causes of injustice/social problems by being social justice advocates.
Charity alone will not build just societies; it will not transform society. You know the saying: “Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day; teach him how to fish and you will feed him for life.” Creating a just society involves, inter alia, promoting authentic human development. Are we promoting the knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes that our people need to live as productive citizens in the 21st Century?
Mother Teresa was a model of charity, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a true advocate of social action—addressing unjust laws, policies, practices and political action. Mother Teresa rightly said: “What you can do, I can’t do, and what I can do, you can’t do, but together we can do something beautiful for God.” We need both kinds of advocates.
When we give money to the person begging on the streets, we are seeking to meet his/her immediate, short-term needs. We need to start asking the question: “Why are the poor poor?” They should not have to depend on our largesse. We all have human rights and the economy should work for the benefit of all. The goods of the earth are there for all of us to share in but distributive justice remains a forlorn dream. We should consider the virtue of charity within the concepts of equity and equality. “No one can remain insensitive to the inequalities that persist in the world!” (Pope Francis).
It is time to combat individuality, selfishness and indifference, and open our eyes to what it means to be people of faith. For Christians, to be Christ-like we need to act as He did. His mandate is clearly outlined in Luke 4:18: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free.” Let’s show that we are true witnesses to Christ by the way we live and the example that we give. And let us anchor our social justice ministry in prayer.
On International Day of Charity, let us renew our resolve to do as Gandhi said and “BE the change” we “wish to see in the world”. Let us find new ways of standing in solidarity with those in need in our communities, for example: the homeless, indigent, elderly, lonely, sick, shut-ins. There are so many ways in which we can promote charity and justice.