Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Charity....

The three great virtues that St. Paul identifies as the things that truly abide in life...faith, hope and love create a trinity of grace. The authorized version, King James translation to many, uses the word charity instead of love. I see the efficacy of both words. In English, we associate charity as an act of largesse on behalf of those in need; but that is a narrow definition. Charity derives from caritas, or the Greek charis and can be linked as much to the words charism and charisma as to any word that implies we humans doing a good deed from time to time. Charism can also infer strength of conviction, devotion, committment. In any event, the noun "love," whether you translate it from the Greek word in Paul (agape) or Latin/KJV (charitas), it means not just a state of being-to me-but a reality of action.

Love is as love does. Love cannot just "be." Without some outward action on our part, love just sort of sits there...and anything in this mortal coil that just sits there too long will inevitably begin to rust and corrupt.

Pauls' enjoinder to the Corinthians, and his hymn to love from the 13th chapter of his first letter to the church in that place, calls the people to live actively in love...and to allow that way of being love and loving to each other to pervade how they act and choose to react to each other and to the people outside of the Church.

Faith, hope and love are all laudable virtues, and I would have more of each, to be sure, in my life...and yet all atrophy when I don't excercise them. Too often in my life, I let doubt, fear and resentment to govern me...and when I let that happen, nothing "good" is the result. In fact, when those negative emotions reign in me, they act through me. Instead of bringing peace, reconciliation and grace to my household, my church and my town...I bring pain, conflict and disintegration. It is a great sin...particularly when I realize that Paul has given me a clear mandate....come, do this and do it this way, he says. And yet, I find that sin dwells in me.

So, time to find charity again in my life.

That issue rose up today. My family has begun a practice, suggested by my wife a couple of years ago, that we exchange gifts to charities to each other at Christmas, rather than gifts. It has been a discipline as well as a blessing to the family. As we ask, offer and receive the names of charities to which each will give on behalf of others, I find myself turning away from wanting to give to one and toward wanting to learn more about why my loved one wants a gift to go to a scholarship fund for urban youth, for a community development fund, for the humane societies, for church development and assistance foundations....that extended gift mean a great deal to the person who is being asked to offer their idea to the group...and it is a way to honor a person we love by giving on their behalf to those they care and pray for in their personal lives.

Love is more than saying "I love you." It is also saying, "Tell me more of who you are, and what you would be/have/give in this life."

I confess, again and again, to NOT being mindful of loving in that way. It takes those moments when Charity asks it of me, to be mindful again of those around me whom I love and take for granted...and even more so of those I do not know and yet God is calling upon me to love.

Pauls' hymn to love is more than just good scripture. It is a key part and portion of what it means to be a person of faith invested in a community of faith. Love is more than some easy ideal of liking someone past their warts and prickles....it is an active committment to care for them, and through them, in this life.

Time to get back to that baseline. I have stumbled...again and again....God give me grace to embrace faith, not doubt; hope, not fear; love, not contempt.

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