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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Approaching the Uncomfort Zone

What does it mean to truly offer charity? Is charity buying a pink blender to help breast cancer? Is it walking two miles around a track to raise awareness for a particular cause? Is it spending the night in a cardboard box in a church parking lot and not eating for 24 hours to 'experience poverty?' Do these actions qualify as true charity or do they fool us with feel good vibes and illusions of helping others?
For many people, charity has become volunteering once or twice a month at a favorite cause and giving weekly at church. Volunteering usually encompasses such challenging tasks as picking up trash on the side of the road, strolling along a Crop Walk or collecting cans from neighbors for a food drive. Now don't get me wrong, each of these events and ones like them, help people and serve a purpose but I don't know if they full fill our Gospel duty. They are all very cushy, comfortable jobs. We fit them in around our schedule and we choose positions that don't require us to actually deal with the poor. We raise money for breast cancer research but do we visit the sick patient? We walk miles to raise awareness for hunger but do we visit a soup kitchen to serve and eat with the homeless? We collect money and food for others but do we share with, or even know, the hungry family on our block? We travel to Washington each January 22 but how many stand outside the clinics, rain or shine and pray the rosary?
We do the minimum, never traveling outside our comfort zone to serve those in need. Charity is not comfortable. It is not reserved for our spare time. We shouldn't perform acts of charity with the intent to feel better about or to bring attention to ourselves. If you're sending out press releases related to your charity work, you might need to rethink your motives. True charity encompasses long hours, little or no pay and the greatest benefits.

"You will find out that charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the bowl of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and always good humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting masters, you will see. Then the uglier and dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone, that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them." St Vincent de Paul (?)