In the contemporary world in which we live, truth has at times tragically become a matter of volume and repetition. The louder and more frequently something is said, the more likely it is that people will accept it as true. As a result, sometimes things become accepted as self-evident without any proof — and they are, in fact, false.
We have often heard “charity begins at home.” The implication is that one’s primary obligations are to one’s own. This would seem to suggest that our obligations are to our own and only secondarily—if at all—to the stranger. Although there is admittedly a certain logic to this, it always struck me as one of those “yes but…” propositions. Logical as it may seem, there is something about caring only for one’s own that makes Christian consciences uncomfortable. The Gospel call is to love and help one’s neighbor and, as the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) shows, Jesus had a very broad understanding of who our neighbor is.
As medieval as it sounds, here at the beginning of the 21st century we find ourselves living with a world-wide pandemic — a plague. No country, no city and, it seems increasingly, no family is untouched by the coronavirus. Mourning has become part of our everyday lives. While the sick and elderly are especially vulnerable, the young and strong have been also dying.
Quarantine, social distancing, etc. naturally narrow our horizons and focus us on things close at hand. “Charity begins at home” takes on greater force when we are quarantined at home and facing the horrors of the plague in a very quarantined, isolated way.
This presents a huge quandary for us at CNEWA. On the one hand, our office in New York is located in one of the world’s coronavirus “hot spots.” All of us are working remotely and practicing “social distancing.” Some of our staff have lost friends and loved ones to COVID-19. As a result, there is an intense awareness of what is going on “at home”—at our home.
“Yes, charity may very well begin at home. But precisely because the home of charity is in the heart, it doesn’t stay in the home.”
At the same time, we cannot forget the people whom we have lovingly served for more than 90 years. We are intimately familiar with what they have been suffering. We know of the hundreds of thousands of people killed, displaced and suffering incredibly. They are not numbers for us; they are name and faces.
And now, a plague hits us all.
It is a terrible position. One the one hand, we experience firsthand the terrible suffering at home. Yet on the other hand, solidarity with those suffering people to whom the Holy Father has sent us is an intrinsic part of CNEWA, woven into our DNA. How can we be faithful to our God-given mission without seeming to minimalize the suffering at home?
It seems that light is shining from an unexpected source. While it might be true that “charity begins at home,” there is strong evidence that the home of charity is the heart — just as Jesus knew. Professional groups that monitor charitable giving notice that in times of tremendous suffering, those who are suffering do not forget those who are worse off. One of these groups, the Association of Fundraising Professionals (AFP), recently published a Report “Charitable Giving in Times of Fear and Uncertainty”. Although complicated and tentative, the study cautiously notes that “the data does suggest that donors are very supportive of their non-profits through uncertain economic times.”
While this is encouraging news, there is for me a far more important message.
Yes, charity may very well begin at home. But precisely because the home of charity is in the heart, it doesn’t stay in the home. If on the one hand, it is almost unbearable to see the suffering caused by the coronavirus at home and around the world, it is very encouraging to see that not even this evil virus has blinded us to the suffering of others. That brings deep hope.
COVID-19 is a mindless, murderous agent that seems almost invincible. However, there is a light in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it. Not even a plague can extinguish that charity, that love for others, which though the grace of God dwells in and shines from the human heart.