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Ramiro Pellitero, Professor of Theology

"Realism and coherence of charity".

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 12:33:00 +0000 Published in Religion Confidential

I once read on the Internet a description of charity that seemed to me basically wrong, but with a point of reality. It came to say that charity is something that makes someone look down on others as if to say: I am good and you are not... Certainly that is not charity, but a deformation of charity that destroys it, what we could call the disease of "the hypocrisy of charity" or "feigned love". The point of reality, unfortunately, is the existence of this disease. That is why it is good to recognize it, to ask about its causes and its treatment.

This is what Pope Francis dealt with in his general audience of March 15. He referred once again to the authenticity of Christian love, of charity. This, he said, is our highest vocation, to which is linked the joy of hope.

Francis relies on a passage from the Letter to the Romans (Rom 12:9-13) where St. Paul asks that charity be free from hypocrisy and that we share the needs of our brothers and sisters, striving to practice hospitality. And the Pope immediately observes: "There is a risk that our love may be hypocritical. When does this happen and how can we be sure that our love is sincere and our charity authentic?

As if he were a microbiologist, Francis explains that "hypocrisy can insinuate itself everywhere, even in our way of loving. And this is proven when we realize that our love is "self-interested", moved by personal interests; and how many self-interested loves there are! For example, "when the charitable services in which we seem to lavish ourselves are done to show off ourselves or to feel paid: you should see how good I am!"

It can also happen that we do things that have "visibility" so that our intelligence or our capacity can be seen. "Behind all this," the Pope observes, "there is a false, deceitful idea, namely, that if we love, it is because we are good; as if charity were a creation of man, a product of our heart.

Indeed, to act in this way is hypocrisy: a deception of others that stems from self-deception. It has its roots in voluntaristic thinking, which is ultimately a lack of Christian realism; that is, a failure to see things, people and events in the light of faith. And that is what this sickness consists of. This explains why sometimes our charity can be feigned, certainly, like a soap opera, something that is not reality.

Francis goes on to explain what charity really is, in simple yet profound words: "Charity, on the other hand, is first of all a grace, a gift; to be able to love is a gift from God, and we have to ask for it. And He gives it willingly Degree, if we ask for it. Charity is a grace: it does not consist in making us see what we are, but what the Lord gives us and that we freely accept; and it cannot be expressed in the meeting with others if it is not first engendered by the meeting with the meek and merciful face of Jesus".

That's right, because Christians love with the love of Jesus. And we are focusing on the treatment that cures feigned love. Clearly, union with Jesus is the first condition for being able to love others. This is indispensable, but it is not enough, and why is the light and power of Christ's love not enough to overcome all our own and others' darkness and weaknesses and lead us to authentic love? Of course, the grace that comes to us through union with Jesus is God's light and life and is therefore omnipotent. But, at the same time, the Lord wanted to "submit" to our limited nature and collaborate with our freedom, even knowing that we are sinners and that our way of loving is marked by sin.

This sad reality," the Pope continued, "is recognized by St. Paul, but at the same time he tells us that we can live the great commandment of love by being instruments of God's charity. But at the same time he tells us that we can live the great commandment of love precisely by being instruments of God's charity. And how and when does this happen?

This is how Francis puts it, without renouncing medical language: "This happens when we allow ourselves to be healed and our hearts renewed by the Risen Christ. The Risen Lord who lives among us, who lives with us, is capable of healing our heart: he does so, if we ask him. It is He who enables us, despite our littleness and poverty, to experience the compassion of the Father and to celebrate the wonders of His love."

So, besides being well united to Jesus Christ, we should ask him to cure us of this possible illness, of this "hypocrisy of love", with a prayer similar to this: "Lord, heal me, teach me to love like you, united to you, far from all pretence and hypocrisy, without seeking to look good or to appear good, although the latter - to appear good - perhaps cannot be avoided at all. But I am not at all interested in looking good, but in being what you want me to be, with all my limitations, but serving you and my brothers and sisters".

And the Pope's argument continues: "We understand then that everything we can live and do for our brothers and sisters is nothing other than a response to what God has done and continues to do for us. Indeed, it is God himself who, taking up residence in our hearts and in our lives, continues to make himself close to and to serve all those whom we meet every day on our journey, beginning with the least and the most needy, in whom we recognize him first of all".

Francis concludes that St. Paul does not want to reproach us, but to encourage us and rekindle our hope. And again he appeals to realism: "For we all have the experience of not living the commandment of love fully or as we should." But he observes that this experience "is also a grace, because it makes us realize that we are not capable of truly loving: we need the Lord to continually renew this gift in our hearts, through the experience of his infinite mercy".

This is how coherent God's actions are and how clear is what he asks of us: to be united to him by grace, and therefore to live far from sin. And he asks of us the humble and persevering prayer of one who knows himself to be little in comparison with the horizons of Christian love (to love with Jesus and like Him!). It is as if we were being told: for your love, your love, to be authentic, you must and you must trust more in God. Personally, stick to Him, take prayer and sacramental life more seriously. And then be continually vigilant (examine yourself daily, even if it is only for two minutes at the end of the workshop) to be coherent in love. 

If we do so, we will make an enormous leap of quality in our love and in our life. And that will help us to rediscover the greatest in the smallest and most everyday things. Because people's lives are made up of little things that are made big by love:

 "Then we will again appreciate the little things, the simple, ordinary things; we will again appreciate all those little things of every day and we will be able to love others as God loves them, wanting their good, that is, that they may be saints, friends of God; And we will be happy for the possibility of becoming close to those who are poor and humble, as Jesus does with each one of us when we are far from Him, of bending down at the feet of our brothers and sisters, as He, the Good Samaritan, does with each one of us, with His compassion and forgiveness".