Monday, 18 March 2013

Charity

There follows a meditation on the collect of today's Vespers and the whole notion of charity as expressed in good works.

Da, quaesumus, Domine, populo tuo salutem mentis et corporis: ut bonis operibus inhaerendo, tua semper mereatur protectione defendi. Per Dominum nostrum.

We beseech Thee, O Lord, grant Thy people health of soul and body, that being devoted to good works they may deserve to be defended by Thy might.  Through our Lord.
I do take slight issue with the translation of "mentis" as soul, it can be translated as that, but I think "reason" and "intellect" do actually fit better here.

The collect asks that our health (physical and mental) be sustained by God and that as a people, our cleaving to good works will ever keep us defended by His power.

So here is a collect asking us to do good works.  Here is a collect that doesn't ask for any other expression of charity in prayer or love of God, but of good works.  Are good works enough? No, that isn't for a moment suggested.  Humility is needed first, the humility to realise that really only meritorious acts can bring us close to deserving Divine protection, if indeed we can ever really earn that.

I also think that whilst most of us are sickly individuals, in mind and body, the granting of health is to the Body of Christ as a whole and not to us as individuals.

Our cleaving to good works is as old as as the faith of the Jewish people.  We have been covering Deuteronomy at the Lenten Bible study at my local parish.  One thing shouts out from the pages of this book of scripture; that charity towards the stranger, widow and orphan trumps any other command (apart from the First Commandment) that has been placed upon the Jewish people.  Nothing should get in the way of this, especially not  rigid interpretation of the Law.  How else could the Moabite widow Ruth have gleaned outside Bethlehem when Deuteronomy makes it quite clear the Moabites are deserving of no pity?

So cleaving to good works, with our heart, our will and our intellect is a worthy way to merit the continual protection of the Church.  Indeed, we can't love God (His primary commandment to us) without our love of neighbour. Nor can we be presumptuous about that protection.  Yes, the gates of Hell with not prevail over us, but the strength of the Church and the degree of protection must involve some willing cooperation from us in God's designs.  And one of those masterpieces of design is charity towards our neighbour.

So how do we go about these good works?  Personally, I'm a "cloister" type.  I like the left hand to be unaware what the right hand is doing.  I like everything to be secret or atleast hidden from view.  I don't want people to know exactly what I get up to in the name of charity.  My confessor will know those aspects where penance is involved, nobody, not even me, knows the method or outcomes of my other acts of charity.

I find the very public demonstrations of charity as expressed in particular by that most ostentatious of orders, the Fransiscians, scary.  It doesn't mean that they or their founder are wrong.  People need to see charity in action, but it doesn't suit everyone to behave like that.  For it to be effective, the motivation must be total purity of heart, and the actions must never be premeditated.  Such charity is spontaneous, like Peter healing the cripple at the Gate Beautiful.  I'm not holy enough for that.  I still need to think about what I'm doing and make sure my intentions are pure and selfless.  But the Church needs both the visible charity and invisible charity.

It is just so important that God is given primacy of place in our hearts and our intentions otherwise our charitable gestures are little more than a Comic Relief head shave; the "church of me" doing something that makes "me" feel good because "you and me" both think it is brave and meritorious.
Does God find that defendable?  I doubt it.

St Francis, pray that I can learn to love you for those aspects of Christ you so passionately demonstrate.


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