I have a friend that whenever he asks for prayers he always starts with "In your charity please pray for X." The idea that as Christians we are bound to each other out of a deep love in Christ for our brothers and sisters is as old as Christianity and is known often as Christian charity. It is a familiar concept to us. However, often times just because something is familiar does not mean that it is practiced or understood. So often we view charity as giving money to a cause or to a person on the street. And that is not a bad thing. But charity goes much deeper than that.
"By your help, we beseech you, Lord our God, may we walk eagerly in that same charity with which, out of love for the world, your Son handed himself over to death." The collect for the Fifth Sunday of Lent reminds us just what Christian charity truly is: it is a self-sacrificial love that seeks the good of our neighbor, whoever that may be. In his 2014 Lenten Message Pope Francis put it a slightly different way: "I distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt."
Next week is Palm Sunday, then it is Holy Week and Easter. Lent is winding down. That doesn't mean though that the holiness we are striving to grow in through prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, is complete. The three pillars of Lent teach us something important that can and should carry us throughout the year, they teach us the true meaning of charity. In prayer we grow closer to the source of true charity, the Trinity. In fasting we are reminded that we have much and yet are totally dependent on the love, the charity, of God for our existence, and in almsgiving we see how our charity on earth is a natural outgrowth of the charity of the Trinity.
We are called to a charity that costs, that hurts, that calls us to the Cross with Jesus. However, we also need to remember that while the cost on earth might seem great, by dying Christ destroyed death. As we journey with Christ, as we empty ourselves in charity for those around us, we remember that out of love, out of charity, Christ saved us and we are called to be with him forever in heaven.
There is an old song I learned when I was in church camp, "They'll know we are Christians by our love". It is true. Our Christian faith is attested to in this life by the charity we show to others. Our prayer today then is that we may not view that love as an obligation, or as something to do and "be done with", but rather as a joyful following of our Saviour and Lord.
Saint Vincent de Paul, patron of those who do acts of charity, pray for us!
Rebecca Spellacy is the Associate Director of Liturgy for the Office of Formation for Discipleship in the Archdiocese of Toronto.