Charity and the Art of Living

Charity doesn’t limit itself to serving the fallen, it expands across all walks of life and all types of people.

I was walking out of class a couple of months ago, feet dragging on the carpet as I tried to comprehend what I had just written notes about in the first hour. “I really need another coffee,” I repeatedly said in my mind, as if saying it would make one appear on the table in front of me. It had been a long, mid-semester week and this was my last class before I could go home, sleep and pretend I didn’t have essays due – at least for a few hours.

As I reached the glass doors that separated the classroom corridor from the main foyer, which lead to the common room, I turned around briefly and saw a classmate of mine striding along behind me.

I could see the common room light, the corner of the vending machine and students from other classes already nestled on the cosy couches, warm drinks in hand, relaxing. I decided to stand at the door and hold it open for this classmate. “Thank you, Moira” they said with a friendly smile as they walked through to the warmly-lit common room.

In a matter of seconds, it seemed like the entire student body was walking through the glass doors. I stood there unimpressed, patience wearing thin, with a grin on my face as student after student walked through. I remember thinking, “Oh man, I just want a coffee. I shouldn’t have opened this door in the first place.”

The last person to walk through was my lecturer. He smiled and said, “Oh, that’s very kind of you to stand there and hold the door open. A small but extremely charitable act.”

I immediately felt a rush of guilt in the pit of stomach. I no longer wanted coffee. I wanted to call back every single person who had walked through so I could apologise to them from not being charitable.

As Lent draws near, Catholics globally are pondering, praying, thinking about and preparing in their minds things to ‘give up’ and how to be more ‘charitable’ during the season of solemn growth and self-observance through Fasting, Prayer and Almsgiving.

Many during this period turn towards “charity” in schools, in workplaces; it seems like a popular period to gather good and give to companies who outsource these things to those in need. Though these practises scatter seeds that bear fruit, it is important to realise that giving is much more than handing something over to charity; it is equally about giving with charity.

For most, like myself, life can get rather hectic at times. Semester one of university is looming, the rethinking of new year’s resolutions is dancing around my thoughts and I like many others paused to think about what I should be giving up, praying like and giving to this Lenten season. It was during this time that I remembered the incident of holding the door open.

Time has transformed the word ‘charity’ to merely connote: volunteering, an organisation, aid, welfare, relief… While these words carry benevolent action, it only touches the surface of what charity is. To have love and compassion for those around you.

Giving alms, being charitable… It’s not all about how much money you put in, or how much food you put it. These actions are beautiful and life-changing; however, the charity lies in how much love is in that action.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux teaches us to “do small things with great love.” Saint Ignatius of Loyola says, “Teach us to give and not to count the cost.” Saint Vincent De Paul says, “Charity is certainly greater than any rule. Moreover, all rules must lead to charity.”

‘Charity’ not just in the giving but charity with giving. Charity doesn’t limit itself to serving the fallen, it expands across all walks of life and all types of people. Love and Charity are one in the same.

You can give be charitable in holding the door open for people, in listening to others, in washing the dishes, in doing laundry. Simple, daily tasks with a lot of love in them. The lives of saints are made up by small acts that no one documented. It was these small acts that became stepping-stones on the path to heaven, until eventually they were at one with the Cornerstone.

So, let us enter into this Lenten season listening with the ears of our hearts, giving and daily acting with the love that binds us together. “And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” 1 Corinthians 13:13