Received and Given

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6/1/2010

When we show charity to those most in need, we become instruments of grace and participate in God’s creative love.

by Supreme Knight Carl A. Anderson

Carl A. Anderson

Charity is never a one-way street. It is not simply something that flows from the giver to the receiver. With true charity, something is given, certainly, but something is also received.

In fact, anyone who has ever engaged in charitable work knows the truth of the words St. Paul attributed to Christ in the Acts of the Apostles: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

We see this theme in many places because it is so universally true. Anyone who saw the recent Academy Award-winning film The Blind Side will remember the moment when Leigh Anne Tuohy, the woman who took a homeless youth into her own home, is told by her friends that she has done a great deal of good for that young man.

She replies that the young man has done even greater good for her and her family.

Every act of charity, in fact, is an opportunity to not only give, but also to receive.

I experienced this in a very special way this past April during a trip to Haiti. There, fellow Knights and I distributed wheelchairs to those affected by the devastating earthquake that struck in January.

Haiti – one of the poorest nations in the world – is still struggling to recover. People who had little now have nothing. And those I met had lost even their ability to move freely.

The scene of devastation was incredible. At a tent hospital run by the University of Miami and Medishare in Port-au-Prince, we distributed the first of what will ultimately be 1,000 wheelchairs to injured Haitians.

What struck me most was not the suffering or the terrible conditions, but the joy that radiated from these injured, impoverished people. What we were giving them was an expression of God’s love, and what we saw in them was God himself – as Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to refer to Christ “in the distressing disguise of the poor.”

First hand, on that trip, I also saw what Pope Benedict XVI discussed in his most recent encyclical, Caritas in Veritate, when he wrote: “Charity is love received and given. It is ‘grace’ (cháris). ... Love comes down to us from the Son. It is creative love, through which we have our being; it is redemptive love, through which we are recreated.

Love is revealed and made present by Christ (cf. Jn 13:1) and ‘poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit’ (Rom 5:5). As the objects of God’s love, men and women become subjects of charity and are called to make themselves instruments of grace so as to pour forth God’s charity and to weave networks of charity” (5).

As an institution with charity as its first principle, the Knights of Columbus strives always to be a “network of charity.” But we are giving what we have first received. Love – caritas – is not a gift that originates with us.

As Pope Benedict noted: “Truth, and the love which it reveals, cannot be produced: they can only be received as a gift.

Their ultimate source is not, and cannot be, mankind, but only God, who is himself Truth and Love” (52). Love is a gift that we are first given by God, which we return to him by our worship and way of living, and which we are called to share with each other.

This is why Christ’s two commandments to us are to love God completely and to love our neighbors as ourselves. This is why so many saints and blesseds – Brother Albert Chmielowski for one, Mother Teresa for another – chose to live with the poor, to be close to “the least” of their brothers and sisters (cf. Mt 25:40).

They thereby chose to be closer to Christ himself and were better able to give his love to others. This is the reason that as Knights we focus on a strong spiritual life and a prominent place for charity.

In doing so, we can fulfill Christ’s two commandments: of loving God completely, and of sharing his gift of love with our neighbor, whomever that neighbor may be.

Vivat Jesus!