Words I Wish Had Been Mine: On Charity
“The cause of the failure [of charity] may be traced to that delusive system which characterizes the religion of the day. The object of this system is to destroy the broad line of distinction between the natural and the supernatural virtues; to raise the one to a level with the other; and to dignify the man at the expense of the Christian.
“Thus for example, the attachments of kindred, of affection, of interest, or an attention to the general civilities of life, are too often mistaken for the divine virtue of fraternal love; moderation and forbearance for mortification and patience; connubial decorum for chastity; the excess of patriotism or the intemperance of bigotry are misnamed zeal and justice, and the refined sensibility of a false honour, though it enlist in its cause all the angry passions, is trumpeted forth as a branch of those sacred duties which by the laws of God every individual owes to himself.
“It is on this equalizing principle also that humanity and charity are so often confounded together; from which strange admixture there arises a second evil, as prejudicial to the interests of the poor as to the diffusion of real charity. For considering the subject, as too often we are inclined, a mere exercise of the benevolent affections, seeing no obligation in question, but only a counsel, acknowledging no claims in the poor but those of pity, looking only to the proportion of relief actually afforded, and not to the immensity of their wants, regarding only what has been done, and not what ought to have been done,—we are too apt to sit down in the plenitude of self-approbation as rich in charity when we are poor and pitiful, and to assume to ourselves the full credit of a gratuitous action when the gospel would teach us we fell far below our duty.”
This was said by the English priest Fr. Henry Weedall (1788-1859), at whose funeral Blessed John Henry Newman gave the sermon, asserting that Fr. Weedall’s work was “as a stepping-stone on which we, who come next, are to raise our own work.” The extract above is from a sermon on charity reprinted in Fr. Saward’s remarkable anthology of The Spiritual Tradition of Catholic England.
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