Spirituality for Today – August 2013 – Volume 18, Issue 1

Where Charity And Love Prevail

Rev. Raymond K. Petrucci

A photo of homeless man

"Hey buddy, can you spare a dime?" was an oft spoken question during the Depression. Giving someone a helping hand seems simple enough. On an individual level, acts of charity typically are simple, but on the national and global levels things can become complicated. Regrettably, many authentic needs of people in particular countries may be denied the help sent to them by outside agencies because of corrupt government officials. And even a singular agency or individual might be perpetrating a scam rather than acting as a legitimate charity. Contrarily, the motivation behind a gift may be suspect. Immense are the number of causes that seek charitable gifts of money and services, but often the individuals and organizations providing help are looking for something back.

In his book, Philanthropy in America: A History, Olivier Zunz looks at philanthropic work during the 20th century and how giving, big money giving especially, was seeking to influence and to direct a particular cause. In addition, the scope of philanthropy grew larger as individuals of great wealth and large philanthropic foundations entered the scene. During the Depression, President Herbert Hoover gave his blessing to private charities in their efforts to help the unemployed. Later on, with the politics of the New Deal of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal Emergency Relief Administration favored government control. President Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society welcomed and funded nonprofits in their charitable work. This openness advanced during the administrations of both presidents Bush: "In Washington, conservative administrations' support for financial aid for faith-based initiatives allowed religion, that quintessentially private force, back into the public arena while legitimizing the idea of partnerships between private philanthropies and government." [Source: Review by Suzanne Garment and Leslie Lenkowsky, The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2012]

Historically, the institutionalization of charity itself rests largely with the Catholic Church. From the time of the Acts of the Apostles, the charity of the community of the Church has given witness to the command to love one another. Today, the Church operates one of the largest charitable networks on earth. During the early 1940s, the Catholic bishops of the United States formed Catholic Charities, USAF for national concerns and Catholic Relief Services as the global arm of the Church's charitable work. With an income of over 4.6 billion dollars, Catholic Charities helps over 10 million people in the United States annually. Services provide access to food, help for community building, formation of stronger families, housing, education, disaster relief, as well as the panoply of basic human needs. Internationally, Catholic Relief Services spends over 780 million dollars annually on responding to emergencies, health services, justice issues, HIV/AIDS, education, funding small enterprises, agriculture, and a multitude of general needs for the welfare of peoples. These charities of the Catholic Church meet all 20 standards for charitable accountability established by the Better Business Bureau. Additionally, I am confident that these charities are meeting the mandates of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as well.

Often overlooked, volunteerism is an extraordinarily valuable and, indeed, an essential aspect of the Church's charitable programs. What price can you attach to the countless hours contributed by members of the Church throughout the world for the help of those in need? It is impossible to count the number of volunteers or the number of people assisted by them. One of the nicest aspects of volunteerism is that it is accessible to Church members of almost every age. Especially heartening is the involvement of young children and teenagers in some project that makes visible the faith that they are growing to understand and to incorporate into the core of their lives. Whether as an individual or as an entire family, being a volunteer is an excellent way of participating in the life of the Church. Let there be a suitable response of abundant applause, wholehearted gratitude, and perpetual thanksgiving for all of the men, women, and children of the Church who give witness to the faith, hope, and love that live within the heart of a true Catholic. Kudos to the volunteers and God bless their efforts today and always.

On the topic of charity much has and can be said. Saint Francis of Assisi said, "Where there is charity and wisdom, there is neither fear nor ignorance." Horace Mann wrote, "To pity distress is but human, to relieve it is Godlike." Moliere offers, "Every good act is charity. A man's true wealth hereafter is the good that he does in this world to his fellows. But I always liked the lyric of an ancient and popular Latin hymn: "Where charity and love prevail, there God is ever found." Contained in these words is truth for the ages.