A well-dressed guy showed up at our mission who wanted to help by distributing government subsidized cell phones to our people. He was wrong on a couple of counts. First, they aren’t “our” people. Each is his own and with difficult decisions to make every day just like you and me. Hope, effort, potential, risk, and love are no less a part of the day for the homeless and poor than they are for us. We should always remember that.
Secondly, distributing cell phones to the poor doesn’t constitute real help. I certainly appreciated his approach more than the lady who preceded him. She simply pulled up in her wagon with cell phones in a box and began indiscriminately handing them to anyone who would sign the paper on her clip board. There was certainly a spike in street sales that day. As I spoke to him in my office, I wondered if he knew that his cell phones were the result of the Telecommunications Act that taxes cell phone corporations so the “underserved” can have what you and I pay for every month. (Yes, those fees are passed on to us. Take a look at your cell phone bill.) No, this man just wanted to help. And though I didn’t question his motive, genuine intent does not always equate to true charity.
Consider the word charity. The dictionary defines it as “generous donations or actions to aid the poor or ill.” The Bible interchanges the word charity with love. But I am afraid our nation is losing sight of what true charity really is. Are “free phones” for the poor sponsored by the government an act of charity? Is feeding the hungry with food stamps an act of charity? Does the provision of shelter using tax dollars fall within the definition of charity?
In the Pope’s 2009 Encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth), he pens these words:
“Charity goes beyond justice, because to love is to give, to offer what is “mine” to the other; but it never lacks justice, which prompts us to give the other what is “his”, what is due to him by reason of his being or acting. I cannot “give” what is mine to the other, without first giving him what pertains to him in justice.”
Justice is prerequisite to true charity. How can charity be true if it’s accomplished by taking from one what is rightfully his? We have seen a great deal of funding flow into Joplin in the last year, both private and public. Did some of those public tax dollars do any good? Of course. Should we be happy for the people who are helped by public funding? I am. I simply suggest we recognize that this is not true charity and that rather than celebrate accomplishments achieved at the expense of working, taxpaying Americans, we should instead wince, drop our heads a bit and find a new resolve to stand for what is just, a place where liberty is preserved and true charity abounds.
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