Charity Versus Foreign Aid

"Charity begins at home" strikes the modern ear as a contradiction in terms. In our time, charity has come to mean giving to strangers —the stranger the better. It is a duty that we discharge by writing a check or typing a credit card number into our favorite charity's website. (By the way, that address is www.chroniclesmagazine.org.) How can it be charitable to give something to my wife and children or even to my cousins or neighbors?

When we forget the meaning of words, it is small wonder if we no longer recognize the thing itself "Charity" comes from the Latin caritas, which meant something like "dearness," "fondness," "affection." St. Jerome used it to translate St. Paul's Greek word, agape, the deep affection we are to have for each other in imitation of Christ's perfect love for us. As St. Augustine put it, charity is the "virtue which joins us to God in love," and it is, as St. Paul tells us, a greater gift of the spirit even than faith.

As a gift of the Holy Spirit, charity connects us with God. St. Thomas tells us that, rather than lavish our wealth on the evil (e.g., thieves, confidence men, and child molesters), we should do the greatest good to those who are closest to God. Quoting Paul's dictum that "Charity dealeth not perversely," he points out that "to do good deeds to certain persons is to act perversely....

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