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Witnessing Charity through Christian unity

Christian charity is an expression and a consequence of Christian unity. The disciples’ shared their life in Jesus, sent by the Father and accompanied by the Holy Spirit. In his ‘Summa Theologica’, Thomas Aquinas defines charity as “the friendship of man for God which unites us with God”. This is one of the excellent virtues a human being can have.

Witnessing Charity through Christian unity

By Archbishop Leo Cornelio, SVD
Christian Unity today needs to be understood in the correct perspective. Jesus speaks about Christian unity very explicitly in his prayer for his disciples, “… that they will all be one, just as you, Father, are in me and I am in you. I pray that they will be in us, so that the world will believe that you sent me (Jn17:21).

Was he praying for the unification of the world under one organization called ‘Church’? Was he praying for the unification of all Christian denominations of our times which have already grown into more that thirty-eight thousand and are still growing in number? It would be totally missing the point to read it as a prayer for organizational unity or unity of pilgrim churches on this earth.

Steven J. Cole says that the very basis of Christian unity is our “shared life in Christ”. Jesus has very specifically proclaimed that he and his Father are one. We share in that divine fellowship. Our shared life in that union, therefore, is the basis of Christian unity. This is what is beautifully reflected on in Jesus’ prayer. This unity is best expressed in our everyday Eucharistic celebration as we gather around the table and break the bread and share the Word.

Christian charity is an expression and a consequence of Christian unity. The disciples’ shared their life in Jesus, sent by the Father and accompanied by the Holy Spirit. In his ‘Summa Theologica’, Thomas Aquinas defines charity as “the friendship of man for God which unites us with God”. This is one of the excellent virtues a human being can have. 

Aquinas further adds that one must not limit oneself only to the love of God but extend this form of charity also to the love of our neighbour (ref. Mt.22/37-39). Expressions of charity in Christian tradition may vary according to time. They must change constantly in response to a changing world and needs of the times.

However our core belief that we share life in Jesus who is our Lord and Master does not change. We are deeply rooted in it and consistently live it. This is the guiding principle of any Christian mission in the world, the fundamental reason for any Christian charity. 

We must resist any attempt to interpret Christian charity as part of church’s organizational strategy or Corporate Social Responsibility. Charity emanates from the common love and shared life of the disciples in Christ. When Charity is limited only to alms-giving, the deeper dimension of charity as self-giving is forgotten.

Our charity is not just a sharing of the surplus or leftovers, not even the profit; but true charity is sharing from one’s wants, one’s very self! This involves self giving or ‘self-breaking’ as Jesus did and thus becoming a sacrament. This is what the great saints in the tradition of the Church teach us through their life.  

Who can forget Mother St. Teresa of Calcutta, the compassionate face of God? When it comes to the charity, option for the poorest of the poor and the vulnerable, those in the ‘periphery’, as Pope Francis refers to, comes first for the Church. The gospel of love is constantly inviting us for a new way of seeing Christian charity which is more radical and challenging.   

The best expression of it is seen in Pope Francis’ recent Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’, with the thematic title “On Care for our common Home” where he invites all people to be concerned about mother Earth and everything in it. It is not the ecological conservatism alone, but the real focus should be on the mistaken understanding of our selfish nature – that the earth and all other beings in it are standing in reserve at our beck and call!

Humanity gets normalized into this way of seeing the world. In our times it tends to intensify and perpetuate itself in all forms of our relationship, in such a way, that human beings no longer see any other mode of genuine possibilities but become blind to the very essence of our being.

This egoistic attitude of humans makes them forget their vocation to be guardians and caretakers of everything. Christian charity today lies in recognizing our place in the world as one among numerous other beings than turning the world into something which exists just for us and because of us.

Christian charity consists in transforming a supermarket world into a genuine dwelling place for all where unity and communion reigns supreme under the guiding spirit of our loving ‘Father in heaven’.

(Archbishop Leo Cornelio is now serving as the Archbishop of Bhopal Archdiocese)

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