Don't Merely Go the Distance.
By Philip Kosloski
When we look at the tactics of the Enemy, we may be surprised to see how Satan actually encourages us to care for people. However, we quickly see that he is trying to draw us away from practicing everyday charity to those we see and know in favor of more imaginary acts of kindness that do not foster a virtuous life.
What he does is very cunning and on the surface appears to be something good.
Screwtape frames the situation like this:
Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient's soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbours whom he meets every day and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans [during WWII] if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train (28, emphasis added).
What Screwtape is describing is a very familiar scenario.
The Negatives of the Annual Mission Appeal
Every year (typically one or two Sundays a year) we hear from a missionary priest about a faraway land, (usually in South America, Africa or India) who describes the terrible plight of their people. The situation is very destitute and the need is truly there. It is a beautiful action to support them and we should do everything we can to use our wealth to their advantage. At the same time, too often we will give a generous donation from the excess of our wealth to these people in need, but still hold a grudge against our neighbor who never shovels their sidewalks. We have great compassion for the people in Africa who live without clean water, but fail to support the work of the local soup kitchen.
It even gets worse when we give thousands of dollars to a distant orphanage, but do not give anything to a relative who is trying to adopt a child. While the annual missionary appeal is a great thing and should be supported ..., we hardly ever hear about the plight of our neighbors who are suffering or about all the men and women in our local community who are unemployed and do not have enough money to feed their family. Our charity appears "imaginary" as Screwtape calls it; there is no substance to it. To use modern terminology, it is "charity in the Cloud."
The Antidote: The Corporal Works of Mercy
The Church provides for us an antidote to our charity that lacks reality. It is called the "Corporal Works of Mercy." These virtuous actions have substance and help us to lead a charitable and virtuous life. It helps us to see Jesus not just in the pictures we see on the slideshow at church, but also in the real people we see every day. Here are the Seven Corporal Works of Mercy:
To feed the hungry.
To give drink to the thirsty.
To clothe the naked.
To harbour the harbourless. (To shelter the homeless)
To visit the sick.
To visit the imprisoned (To ransom the captive)
To bury the dead.
These are probably some of the most humbling activities a person can do. Very few of us take time to actually feed someone at a soup kitchen or visit a nursing home. Yet these are the people who need our attention. Some of the most profound moments of my life came when I actually helped someone by feeding them, visiting with them or simply helping them. They are literally our neighbors. These acts of Mercy define those who are part of the sheep who go to Heaven:
Then the King will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.' Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?' And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.' (Mt 25:34-40 RSVCE)
If we want any more encouragement, let us hear the words of Blessed Mother Teresa:
Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.
Let us more and more insist on raising funds of love, of kindness, of understanding, of peace. Money will come if we seek first the Kingdom of God — the rest will be given.
Let us touch the dying, the poor, the lonely and the unwanted according to the graces we have received and let us not be ashamed or slow to do the humble work.
Takeaway: If we start small by practicing charity to those we meet every day we will be able to change the whole world, one family and neighborhood at a time.