by Fr. Jeff Loseke
When most people hear the word charity, they probably associate it with donations for the poor, such as food, clothing, toys, money, and so forth. Others probably think of worthy causes, nonprofit organizations, and tax-deductible donations that help those in need. The problem with these ideas is that they reduce charity to seasonal or occasional acts of goodwill that are drawn from one’s excess resources. Charity, then, becomes a thing—and an optional one at that.
A Christian, however, must approach charity not as a something but as a Someone. Saint John’s first letter attests to the fact that “God is love” (4:8) and that “love is of God” (4:7). In the original language of this letter, the Apostle uses the Greek word agape to describe this kind of love that is divine in origin. The Greek language possesses several different words for love, making the author’s choice to describe God in terms of agape most significant for us. Agape suggests a love that is unconditional and freely given. Traditionally, this has been rendered in Latin as caritas and then into English as charity. This revelation gives our understanding of charity an entirely different dimension: God is charity, and charity is of God (cf. 1 John 4:7-8). We realize that God is selfless, unconditional charity that seeks to pour out Himself for the good of another. Theologically, this divine outpouring is referred to as kenosis, and it remains a central—if not the most central—characteristic of who God is. Indeed, Divine Revelation has shown us that God is a free and total outpouring and exchange of charity as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What is more is that He has destined us to share in this great and mysterious exchange of divine love!
God has invited us to share in the eternal banquet of His charity (cf. Revelation 19:7-9). The question remains: How do we respond? At the Last Supper, Jesus connected His own Sacrifice on the Cross to the ritual of the Passover and told His disciples to “do this in memory of me” (Luke 22:19). By commanding His disciples to perpetuate His Sacrifice through the Holy Eucharist, Jesus invited them into the participation of His total outpouring of charity. To further demonstrate His desire for them, He gave His disciples an example of charity as He washed their feet and said to them, “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). Our response to God’s charity to us is a charitable return of ourselves to Him and to each other. Our gift of self must not be occasional or seasonal. It must not be limited or conditional. It must be continual and relational. We have been called to love as God loves, and that means that we must lay down our lives for others (cf. John 9:15-17). Charity is not an option for the Christian. Charity is a way of life.
The Reverend Jeffery S. Loseke is a Priest of the Archdiocese of Omaha and is currently the pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Gretna, Nebraska. Ordained in 2000, Fr. Loseke holds a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm in Rome and is working to complete his doctoral degree (Ed.D.) in interdisciplinary leadership through Creighton University in Omaha. In addition to parish ministry, Fr. Loseke has served as a chaplain in the U.S. Air Force, taught high school theology and college-level philosophy, and has been a presenter for various missions, retreats, and diocesan formation days across the country.
Art: The Attainment: The Vision of the Holy Grail to Sir Galahad, Sir Bors, and Sir Perceval by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, 1895-96 (Wikimedia Commons)