Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of February 10, 2003
Welcome charity into the home, heart
By MSGR. JIM LISANTE
There's a very old saying: "Charity begins at home." It's one of those clich‚s that people offer more when they want to discourage family members from doing something for others rather than to encourage kindness within the family. And that's too bad because every home could benefit from as much charity as possible.
So with St. Valentine's Day being a time when many couples get engaged and many married folks think a little more about their relationships, I thought I'd suggest paying some attention not to just the emotions of love, but to loving and charitable behaviour.
Obviously, it's a lot easier to be kind and generous to a person for whom you have warm feelings than to somebody you don't care about - or actively dislike.
But even the most loving families can take one another for granted. More than that, too often people think less in terms of gracious, open-hearted giving and more in terms of being "unselfish". This is not necessarily a good thing.
In fact, in excess, it can be as bad as selfishness. There's a huge difference between giving and giving up.
C. S. Lewis, one of the most respected and widely read Christian writers of the twentieth century, had some wise and practical advice on the subject in one of his best known works, The Screwtape Letters. This is a Christian moral fable about faith and temptation written as a series of letters from the demon Screwtape to his nephew Wormwood, a lesser devil. Wormwood's goal is the ultimate damnation of the "patient" assigned to him. So, from this hellish perspective, we find that black is white, good is evil, and the Enemy is God Himself.
At one point, when the "patient" falls in love, Lewis addresses the need for true charity in marriage from the devil's upside-down point-of-view:
"Courtship is the time for sowing those seeds which will grow up ten years later into domestic hatred. The enchantment of unsatisfied desire produces results which the humans can be made to mistake for the results of charity.
"Avail yourself of the ambiguity in the word 'Love': let them think they have solved by Love problems they have in fact only waived or postponed under the influence of the enchantment. . . . The grand problem is that of 'Unselfishness.' Note, once again, the admirable work of our Philological Arm in substituting the negative unselfishness for the Enemy's positive Charity. Thanks to this you can, from the very outset, teach a man to surrender benefits not that others may be happy in having them but that he may be unselfish in forgoing them.
"If they notice them, they will be on the road to discovering that 'love' is not enough, that charity is needed and not yet achieved and that no external law can supply its place."
So, here's hoping that love - and charity - are always welcome in your home and in your heart.
(For a free copy of the Christopher News Note, Being a Good Neighbour, write: The Christophers, 12 East 48 St., New York, NY, 10017; or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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