In preparation of Advent, my husband and I are once again trying to figure out how to incorporate works of charity into the season; something beyond passing on a choice parking space for another driver or dropping a few quarters in the Salvation Army pail. Charity is the work of Christians. It is what we are called to do through out the year, although opportunities abound this time of year. But how many Christians have forgotten what charity really requires? We've grown into a society where 'handling' the poor, the sick and the mentally ill is the work of the government. Today's charity opportunities consist of feel good monetary donations, once yearly soup kitchen visits with friends and or awareness ribbon purchases. We've turned over our duty to the government and what have they done with such a great responsibility? How many people are helped by social programs versus those who've come to rely on the system?
Doing works of charity is good for the soul, it's spiritually uplifting when done right. The end result should not be a bursting sense of pride or an emotional pick me up. True charity leaves you humble, you are the servant not the master. You're not coming down out of your ivory tower to mingle with the commoners. (I'm talking to you celebrities/politicians and your staged photo ops.) Are you worthy to bow before them and wash their feet? If you didn't get the point; charity is not about you.
But the problem with a government run system is you don't have humble people meeting the needs of the less fortunate with compassion and love. And how can you have charity without love? The recipients of government handouts certainly don't love the government agencies that 'serve' them. But yet many have come to rely on the handout and to expect government assistance with every pitfall. Christian charity in a crisis has become a bonus. We couldn't expect fellow Christians, neighbors, church members, friends and family members to shoulder all the responsibility of serving the needy could we?! The suggestion to most people seems preposterous. By why should it be?
We look at our prosperous country and still see homelessness, poverty, hunger, troubled youth, abused children and we sit in our cushy homes, begrudgingly pay our taxes and wonder why the government hasn't used our money to take care of these problems. Is the solution to these problems really higher taxes? How many committees and special dialogue sessions do we need to pay for before we realize WE are the solution. Christians helping everyone, serving one another and making sacrifices for the good of mankind. Stop passing the buck. Stop expecting Uncle Sam to play Christ for the country's less fortunate. What a lousy substitution.
"But who is to take care of them if the government does not? That is a question in a day when all are turning to the state, and when people are asking, "Am I my brother's keeper?" Certainly we all should know that it is not the province of the government to practice the works of mercy, or go in for Insurance. Smaller bodies, decentralized groups, should be caring for all such needs.
The first unit of society is the family. The family should look after its own and, In addition, as the early fathers said, "every home should have a Christ room in it, so that hospitality may be practiced." "The coat that hangs in your closet belongs to the poor." "If your brother is hungry, it is your responsibility."
"When did we see Thee hungry, when did we see Thee naked?" People either plead ignorance or they say "It is none of my responsibility." But we are all members one of another, so we are obliged in conscience to help each other. The parish is the next unit, and there are local councils of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. Then there is the city, and the larger body of charitable groups. And there are the unions, where mutual aid and fraternal charity is also practiced. For those who are not Catholics there are lodges fraternal organizations, where there is a long tradition of charity. But now there is a dependence on the state. Hospitals once Catholic are subsidized by the state. Orphanages once supported by Catholic charity receive their aid from community chests.""More About Holy Poverty. Which Is Voluntary Poverty."
By Dorothy Day
The Catholic Worker, February 1945