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The Meaning of Charity

by Britta Kantzer
When we hear the word “charity” we think of love towards our neighbour, love made visible as in service. We hear the word everyday; we use it and we may also practise it in different forms. But what does charity really mean?

Mother Teresa said: “To truly give charity, you must be free of selfishness!”

It is pure joy of giving, which includes much more than material things. This act of giving can have many faces, like in a warm smile to strangers, a personal thank-you-letter, an encouraging hug, an unexpected phone call, a thoughtful word of appreciation, a bonding with a person in grief, a prayer for the healing of others, a heartfelt forgiving when you are wronged. All this is done not out of duty or responsibility but out of the abundance of warmth and love you feel welling up inside you. And the more you give out, the more flows back in; that is the joy of love in action, the manifestation of charity. As long as you feel compelled to do something because it is your duty or because you want something in return, there is no love.

Have you ever experienced moments of epiphany in your life? Mostly they happen unexpectedly. You listen to someone talking and you feel that your mind is drifting off to other thoughts, as our mind does all the time. Suddenly — something within us seems to ring a bell; we become alert, and in this awareness one sentence we have just overheard pierces our consciousness like a spear and there is an inner response like an influx of light, clarity and beauty. Suddenly you “know” what you just heard is Truth!

During these cycles, the dormant seed of human nature gradually transforms into higher and higher levels of perfection until finally a spiritual impulse awakes, desire turns into the will to love, selfish thoughts are transformed into greater understanding of what love means, and the fruit of this love is expressed in the manifestation of charity.

However, many lessons have to be learned before selfishness is transformed into the ability to truly love others. There is no greater mystery than the mystery of love itself. Mother Teresa said: “I do not think I have any special qualities. I don’t claim anything for the work. It is His work. I am like a little pencil in His hand, that is all. He does the thinking. He does the writing. The pencil has nothing to do with it. The pencil has only to allow itself to be used.”

The challenge remains for all of us: May our life become a spark in the flame of charity, so that the warmth and light of this loving fire may shine ever more brightly and sustain hope in the hearts of mankind.