Faith and charity

  • February 6, 2013

Charity can exist without faith but faith without charity is illusory. That fundamental truth was underlined by Pope Benedict XVI in his message for Lent in which he said faith and charity are coupled and inseparable.

“These two theological virtues are intimately linked,” he wrote. He described faith as entering into a friendship with God and charity as a means to express that friendship. Faith is knowing the truth, charity is living it. “It is clear we can never separate, let alone oppose, faith and charity,” he said.

These are fitting words for reflection as Ash Wednesday approaches and Catholics worldwide prepare to celebrate the death and Resurrection of Christ. Lent calls us to a period of fasting, penance and almsgiving. Each is important but in this Year of Faith the Pope is directing us into particular reflection on the intrinsic harmony of faith and charity.

In presenting the Pope’s message, Cardinal Robert Sarah told a Vatican press conference that it is misguided to see faith as an abstract concept and charity as the concrete message of the Church. Each is real and integral to Christianity. They are connected and indissoluble, two fundamental manifestations of what it means to follow Christ.

In the Pope’s words, faith lets us recognize the gifts God has entrusted to us; charity makes them fruitful. “Faith without works is like a tree without fruit,” he said. Lent is a period to strengthen and renew faith through reflection and the sacraments and, because faith must co-exist with charity, Lent also compels active Christian engagement in charity.

That theme was evident in the archdiocese of Toronto pastoral plan announced in the lead-up to Lent by Cardinal Thomas Collins. He summarized the plan as a call to strengthen and promote our faith and an invitation to engage in stewardship in “a spirit of generosity” as we share our “time, talent and treasures with others.” That same mission is at the heart of the Pope’s Lenten message, to become, as the cardinal called it, “the hands and face of Jesus in our community.”

All of this ties back into the Year of Faith because evangelization, said the Pope, “is the greatest form of charity and the best way to promote the human person.” A Christian life begins with the blessing of faith but the Christian journey is about becoming Christ-like. That means sharing His love through acts of charity but especially through evangelization, which the Pope calls “the greatest work of charity.”

“There is no action more beneficial — and therefore more charitable — towards one’s neighbour than to introduce him to a relationship with God,” the Pope said.

And there is no time better than Lent to start making those introductions.


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