The importance of charity to Catholic life


Words are two-edged swords: they can connect us through shared meanings or they can divide us through misunderstandings. "Charity begins at home" can be understood both as an invitation that unites and as a slogan that divides, writes Fr Christopher Jamison in the 2011 Cafod lecture, published in the Tablet.

The origins of the phrase are lost in the distant past but in times of crisis, the phrase can fall into malicious hands. In the name of "charity begins at home", people can tap into our anxieties about migration and stir up neo-nationalist hatred or, in smoother tones, they can prey on our fears about old age and sell us unnecessary pension schemes.

Preying on our insecurity about home is a sure way to make "charity begins at home" into a rallying cry for selfishness. Yet the phrase also has the potential to be a rallying cry for creative new ways of expressing generosity and this creative potential is what we'll look at this evening.

People generally understand charity as donating money to organisations that care for those in need. It's wonderful that, in spite of the recession, the Catholic community in this country donated £32million to Cafod last year.

Charities providing aid and disaster relief remain the most popular cause for individual donations in this country. But Cafod's half a million supporters are not only donors they are also committed to the wider meaning of charity.

To find that wider meaning, there is no better place to turn than to the encyclical letter "On the Progress of Peoples" issued by Pope Paul VI in 1967. He insisted that "the social question ties all people together, in every part of the world" and he asks that we show "universal charity".

For Pope Paul, then, charity begins in our global home. As we honour his prophetic voice, we honour too an entire generation of Catholics who responded generously to his call to inhabit the global village; they did so through political action in Britain and through lives devoted to mission abroad.

They were the unfashionable forerunners of Bob Geldof, Bono and the other rock stars of the 1980s who brought these issues to a much wider audience.

FULL STORY Where is charity, where is home? (Tablet)

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