This is the third in a seven-part series on the seven moral and theological virtues listed in the Catechism. They are faith, hope, charity (love), prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. The series will take a closer look at how these virtues are tested in this life and how we can grow in these virtues.
The first act of charity that comes to mind for many people is donating food to a food pantry.
And what a wonderful act of service this is for those who need help obtaining nutrition. It’s also an easy, accessible way to serve our communities. I was listening to a talk by Fr. Casey Cole, O.F.M., where he talked about the way to heaven being through the poor. Shortly after listening to this talk, I hastily resolved to purchase food for the food pantry more often. But was this really the particular call that I was to follow?
I wouldn’t propose that we should all abandon our desire to donate food to a food pantry. But I think many of us look at acts of charity like check boxes. We got food for the pantry, check, and then we can move on. I know I have been prone to think in this way. So how can we grow in a more comprehensive charity? How can we wholly love our neighbors as Christ loved his neighbors?
St. Paul’s description of love in First Corinthians is an often quoted description of love. “Love is patient, love is kind, etc.” But the line at the end of all of that is what really sticks out for me. “Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 4:8)
I was in the grocery store some time ago, rushing my chilled self through the cold dairy aisle, when I met a man I will never forget. As I made my way, I briefly glimpsed and just as quickly dismissed an elderly man who was mumbling and complaining about something under his breath. I expedited my trip with my yogurts and sped toward the milk. But before I could get to the milk, something stopped me in my tracks.
What had just happened? I turned around and looked at the man who was still mumbling at the yogurt. I looked around at others minding their own shopping and looked to the milk, which was still beckoning me. Then I abandoned my cart and walked back to the man, asking if he needed anything. He turned to me with tears in his eyes and told me that he was blind, and that the store had moved his yogurt to a different spot. Because he is blind, he could not see where it had been put, and his diabetes restricted him to that specific kind of yogurt. Utterly ashamed of my selfish hastiness, I found what he was looking for and gave it to him. He thanked me and we parted.
Love never fails. This is what St. Paul was talking about. This is precisely what Fr. Casey was imploring in his message about serving the poor. That “love” is what I initially failed to do. My initial impression of this poor man was filled with disgust and was entirely self-centered. Love and charity should not be limited to material things we can get for people, and it also does not have to be as heroic as laying down our life for our neighbor. We are called to acts of charity on a daily basis. Love can be praying for the person in the ambulance driving by, picking up the neighbor’s trash that has blown across the street or letting someone who is in a rush go ahead of us in line.
My pride and self-interest interfered with my ability to immediately love the man in the yogurt aisle. Where there is pride there cannot be genuine love. Love calls us to be humble. If we are to develop this virtue of charity, we must never fail to love. We must not miss the daily opportunities we have to serve the poor. The world is filled with those in need of love. And we can easily miss them if we only think of love as the things we can get for people or if we are only thinking big.
I cannot end a discussion about love without mentioning Mother Teresa of Calcutta. Mother Teresa is our modern epitome of love. In a book about her writings, “Come Be My Light,” she wrote, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Let us go into all the world and do small things without failing. Let us notice our suffering neighbor and love them, even if that love only takes a minute out of our day in the yogurt aisle.