Monday, March 12, 2012

Charity Begins at Home

The Rosary begins with making the sign of the cross, "in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen."  Holding the cross, the Apostles Creed is recited. Then comes the first bead, upon which the Our Father prayer is said. The next three beads are Hail Marys, and one meditates upon the three greatest virtues according to 1 Corinthians 13--faith, hope, and charity. Older bibles use that word, charity, while more recent translations replace charity with love.

Every time I said the Rosary, this Charity thing nagged at me. What does this mean? Is it the same as Love? Well, yes, but it has specific connotations, which I defined in my last post, The Blessing of Children. When I typically thought of charity, I understood it as giving to the poor and needy. Donating to charity. Charitable organizations. The biblical Charity certainly refers to this but expands the meaning to a lovingkindness, or compassion, extended to all of humanity. It emphasizes a leniency of judgment and a reflection of God's mercy. It encompasses a generosity of spirit and an openness of heart. Sacrifice is surely inherent to the concept. Love, or Charity, in 1 Corinthians 13 is never described as a feeling, but rather as a state of being, denoted by the verb "is". Love is patient, love is kind... And what it is not, ie., haughty, selfish, or rude. It does not keep an account of wrongs suffered. Charity is action oriented. It is about being generous with one's time, attitude, and attention, not just with one's money.

This passage is so popular at weddings, for the very reason that it is not about passing emotions, or romantic feelings. It "bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things." Faith and hope are high on the list, but "the greatest of these is Charity."  Love never fails. That is, God is Love, and He never fails, and likewise we are not to withhold our Charity. Christian charity is to be extended to others NO MATTER WHAT. Tall order.

Today that old saying, "Charity begins at home" came to mind. When researching homeschooling and the concerns of others regarding socialization (I can hardly stand the word anymore!), a mother wisely wrote that proper socialization must begin at home. People in a family need to learn to get along with one another first and foremost. Husbands and wives must honor each other. Children must respect their parents. Siblings must be taught conflict resolution. Good habits must be established. Pets must be taken care of. Responsibilities must be shared. Parents must not antagonize their children. And so on. An attitude of Charity must be learned and practiced beginning in the home. You don't feed the birds but let your children starve. You don't volunteer for the benefit of others in the community to the neglect of your own children.

The Holy Family

It follows that if Charity begins at home, then the extended family comes next in widening the circle. For example, the feelings and needs of a grandchild take precedence over the opinion of an adult friend or neighbor. This does not mean that you allow inappropriate behavior, but you extend an attitude of grace to the little one. You model to the child respect for oneself, for others, and for the environment. If you don't make the welfare of your own immediate and extended family a priority, how will the children know how to best operate in the world?  Why does it seem so difficult for some Christians to focus on Charity toward those closest to them? If you would not talk to a friend from church or colleague at the office in a certain way, why do you talk to your husband, daughter, wife, son, sister, or grandchild that way? And no family member should be treated as lesser than another. Think about whether you extend unconditional love and acceptance to your own family members.

Unfortunately, the model of many Christians is not one of Charity. Some Christians don't have their priorities straight, and they worry about what outsiders think of them and their family more than they care about the consideration of their own family members. These people go to church but live quite a different life the rest of the week. This kind of hypocrisy turns so many people off ever wanting to be Christian, or makes it hard to admit for some that they are Christians themselves. They don't want to be associated with the "holier than thou" crowd who see the speck in the eye of someone else but not the log in their own.

Sometimes I get caught up in what other people think of my parenting. I feel like an open sore being stared and poked at. What if I don't want to belong to a homeschooling co-op this year? How many times a week does my child play with other children? Can she read as well as others her age? Should I put her in some kind of lessons? If her behavior doesn't live up to the expectations of others, will they think it is because she is homeschooled, or because I'm not a good enough mother? Wow, what a pile of buffalo chips to have to step around! (That's buffalo poop, in case you didn't know.) Whose business is any of this, anyway? Should I live my life trying to anticipate what will make other people happy? I will tell you right now, unequivocally, that it won't work. So stop slinking around corners holding a mirror and watching out for the basilisk living in Hogwart's castle. You will become paralyzed and not be able to function.

None of this stuff matters if my child does not receive unconditional love and acceptance from her family, whether immediate or extended. And that goes for the grace of Charity when it comes to how others treat my husband and I, too. So what should you do if someone is less than charitable toward you? You are still required to love him or her. But sometimes you just have to walk away, blessing others to go in peace, protecting your home front from harm. Although a door may close for now, perhaps a window will someday open. So keep your eyes on the ball of Love, my friends. Give the best example of your faith and hope that you can through the power of Charity, and let it begin at home (but also don't let it end there!).

1 Timothy 5:8 - But if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.

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