Charity Knows No Limits

by | Oct 19, 2020 | Formation, Reflections

Through his writings, we invite you to discover Frederic Ozanam, co-founder of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul and one of the most beloved members of the Vincentian Family (and about whom, perhaps, we may still know very little).

Frederic wrote much in his 40 plus years of life. These texts — which come to us from the not too distant past — are a reflection of the family, social and ecclesial reality lived by their author and which, in many aspects, bears similarities with what is currently lived, especially as regards the inequality and injustice suffered by millions of impoverished men and women in our world.

Commentary:

Human justice has its limits, its deficiencies, its “injustices” within justice. This does not need much argumentation. How can we admit that there are justices of different kinds, one for the powerful and the rich, and another for the poor and the needy? Are we so naive to continue thinking that, today, justice is the same for all? All we need to do is look at reality: the crimes perpetrated by the powerful hardly have repercussions, while many other are stuck in prisons without the money to pay good lawyers.

For the believer who follows Jesus Christ, charity  is the equivalent of love,  the primary theological virtue. Unfortunately we tend to equate charity with alms. And this is a serious mistake.

Charity is the principal commandment of the Christian:

To put [Jesus] to the test, one [of the Pharisees] put a further question, “Master, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?” Jesus said to him, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second resembles it: “You must love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang the whole Law, and the Prophets too.[1]

These commands, which already appear in the Old Testament[2], are similar: that is, alike. You can not understand the one without the other.

Neighbor —the whole Gospel clearly states— is every man or woman, friend or enemy, to whom we owe respect, consideration, esteem, and whom we offer our hand without judgments. Love of neighbor is universal and personal at the same time. It embraces all humanity and is concretized in the one who is at your side.

Frederic asks us to “spend our life in sacrifice” in favor of others, and to do this “for love.” He asks us, in a definitive way, to go far beyond the justice of men, and base our existence on the unique, but double, mandate of Jesus Christ. Unique, because he who loves God and loves his neighbor fulfills the whole law. The Ten Commandments are summarized in two, which in the end can be synthesized in one: love.

All of this obliges us to engage in a struggle for a more just world, to work on behalf of justice so that all are treat equally and fairly. We cannot separate ourselves from the world and we have to collaborate with other in order to create a more just and unified world. Offering our lives in this manner we are simply doing what Jesus has requested of us. Frederic speaks the words “unprofitable servants” obviously recalling the scripture passage in which Jesus says: “when you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do‘[3].

Suggestions for personal reflection and group discussion:

  1. In our life and in our surroundings are charity and love dealt with in the same manner? Are they synonymous?
  2. As believers and as Vincentians, what actions can we engage in (or should we engage in) to promote universal justice and equality for all people? What commitment have we made with the organizations that work on behalf of justice and that are active in development structures?
  3. How and with what do we combat the “structures of sin” that oppress men and women?

Footnotes:

[1] Matthew 22:35-40.

[2] Eg, Exodus 20:1-17 and Leviticus 19:18.

[3] Luke 17:7-10.

Javier F. Chento
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