“Lord, who is my Neighbor?”: A perspective on Charity

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Image credits: flickr.com

By: Paul Luke Keh

“Those whom the world rejects must move you the most!”

– St. Louis de Montfort

In this period of Lent, Catholics all over the world are called to engage in fasting, penance and charity, in our preparation for the passion of our Lord on Good Friday and His Resurrection on Easter Sunday. Since previous blog posts this Lent have spoken of fasting and penance, I write today to share my perspective on charity and works of mercy as Catholics.

The Catholic church has long emphasized an option for the poor, and as Christians we are called to be present and to give to the less fortunate. Pope Francis has repeatedly called us to serve the poor and to always keep them in our prayers in his message:

“Each individual Christian and every community is called to be an instrument of God for the liberation and promotion of the poor, and for enabling them to be fully a part of society. This demands that we be docile and attentive to the cry of the poor and to come to their aid.”

– Pope Francis, Evagelii Gaudium, 187

I have no doubt that we all feel a strong connection to helping the poor, and indeed the Knights of Columbus in Georgetown have been very active in our efforts to be present to those who are poor in our midst. We are called to respond to Jesus’s message

“… for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

-Matthew 24:35-36 (NRSV)

But I feel that Christian charity and works of mercy means so much more than just giving to the poor and those in poverty.

To me, it means being there for those whom the world reject, in every sense of the word: it means being there for people suffering from drug addiction, to stand with undocumented migrants. It means being present to those who come from broken families and relationships, to be with refugees and religious minorities, to be willing to stand up for those that society frowns upon even if that means that we are judged by others for doing so.

Modern society has sometimes made it easy to judge a person’s worth by their economic potential, by their ability to contribute, by the amount of “right” they have done in their lives. But everyone has done wrong in their lives, and no one has any say in conditions of their birth: to despise them for what they have done or who they are is to reject Jesus and the message He gave us, for He said:

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

– Matthew 24:40

Somebody once told me to picture the scene in your life that you are most ashamed of, one that you don’t want to remember, and now imagine that that scene is now the only one that people talk to you about. That is what it feels like to be rejected by society, to be despised for the things you did, or for who you are. While the Church recognises that some things are sinful, and that some things must never be permitted, we should also remind ourselves that we reject the sin, not the sinner.

Charity and works of mercy should always be our first response to those whom the world rejects, not condemnation, so that through us the world may see the saving power of God. St Francis of Assisi is known to have instructed others to “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary, use words.” This, to me, is the most powerful form of evangelisation.

This period of Lent is a time for introspection and preparation. Let us pray for the courage to give of ourselves to those who need our help most, and to have the humility to ask the Lord, who is my neighbor?

“… Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.”

– Luke 10:36-37

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