By Hannah Brockhaus
Pope Francis told members of a global charitable group Monday that real charity is about encountering Christ in the poor and needy, not merely handing out aid to soothe one’s conscience.
“If we look at charity as a service, the Church would become a humanitarian agency and the service of charity its ‘logistics department.’ But the Church is nothing of all this, it is something different and much greater,” he said May 27.
“It is, in Christ, the sign and instrument of God’s love for humanity and for all of creation, our common home.”
The pope addressed the Church charity Caritas Internationalis during their general assembly in Rome, which ends May 28.
“Given the mission that Caritas is called to carry out in the Church, it is important to always return to reflect together on the meaning of the word charity itself,” he said. “Charity is not a sterile performance or a simple offering to donate to silence our conscience.”
“This is why we must avoid assimilating the work of charity with philanthropic efficacy or with planning efficiency…” he stated, reiterating “that charity is not an idea or a pious feeling, but is an experiential encounter with Christ; it is the desire to live with the heart of God who does not ask us to have a generic love, affection, solidarity, etc. for the poor, but to meet Himself in them.”
Francis referenced John 4:8 to explain that the origin of charity is found in God himself, for “whoever is without love does not know God, for God is love.”
“Charity is the embrace of God our Father to every man, especially to the least and the suffering, who occupy a preferential place in his heart,” he said.
The pope stated that to live charity requires interpersonal relationships with the poor: “living with the poor and for the poor. Because by living with the poor we learn to practice charity with the spirit of poverty, we learn that charity is sharing.”
“In reality, not only the charity that does not reach the pocket is a false charity, but the charity that does not involve the heart, the soul and all our being is an idea of charity that is not yet realized,” he said.
Reflecting on charity as a theological virtue, Pope Francis said he finds it “scandalous” to see charitable work turned into a business. Especially when people “talk so much about charity but live in the luxury of dissipation or organize forums on charity uselessly wasting so much money.”
“It is very bad to note that some charity workers turn into officials and bureaucrats,” he opined, advising encounter with Jesus Christ as the antidote.
“It is communion in Christ and in the Church that animates, accompanies and supports the service of charity both in the communities themselves and in emergency situations throughout the world,” he said.
“The poor are first and foremost persons, and their faces conceal that of Christ himself. They are his flesh, signs of his crucified body, and we have the duty to reach them even in the most extreme peripheries and in the hidden parts of history with the delicacy and tenderness of Mother Church.”