When we hear the word "charity," we often think of making a donation. That's appropriate — especially during Lent, when one of the three things we are to focus on is almsgiving.
Charity also can be understood in a broader sense — as when we are generous with our time and talents as much as with our treasure.
Going back to the word's Latin root, caritas, the concept points to the roots of our generous behavior — Christian love for everyone.
St. Ignatius of Loyola recognized charity's deeper dimension when he taught that it has to begin with a disposition of the heart and a state of mind before it expresses itself in deeds. In other words, we are compelled by Jesus' commandment to love our neighbor in order to look generously — more selflessly — on other people.
And that's not always a matter of giving time, talent or treasure to others. Rather, it begins by giving others the benefit of the doubt. That's not something praised or modeled very often in our culture, and especially not in our political discourse. If we were to imitate the pundits on TV and radio these days, we'd be inclined to always assume the worst about others — unless, of course, they are our political allies, in which case everything is always forgiven.
Ignatius' approach was more balanced and straightforward. "Every good Christian ought to be more ready to give a favorable interpretation to another's statement than to condemn it," he advised.
And if we can't manage a favorable interpretation of another's words or deeds, at the very least we Christians are obliged to ask the other to explain his or her position or behavior — and to listen to the other person's explanation.
If we Christians still cannot accept the other's position, we should try "all suitable ways to bring the other to a correct interpretation." But "suitable ways" are only those that are motivated by love. If we're motivated by anything else, chances are we are doing much more harm than good.
Adapted and used with permission from Take Five: On-the-Job Meditations with St. Ignatius by Mike Aquilina and Fr. Kris D. Stubna, Copyright © by Our Sunday Visitor Publishing Division, Our Sunday Visitor, Inc.
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