Where does charity begin?
Where does charity begin? Consider this for a moment. You’ve heard where love is perfect; the Lord told us in the Gospel what its goal and measure is: “Greater love than this no one has than to lay down his life for his friends” (Jn 15:13). He showed its perfection in the Gospel, and it is here commended again. But you ask yourselves, “When can we have this charity?” Don’t despair of yourselves too quickly. Perhaps it has been born but is not yet perfect. Nourish it so that it’s not choked. But you will say to me: “How will I know it?” How it is made perfect we have heard; let’s hear where it begins. He goes on to say: “Whoever has the world’s goods and sees a brother hungry and closes his bowels from him, how could the love of God be in him?” (1 Jn 3:17) That’s where charity begins! If you’re not yet capable of dying for a brother, you are already capable of helping a brother from your means. Let charity strike your bowels so that you don’t do it out of vainglory but from the marrow of your mercy see him in his need. If you can’t give your superfluous goods to your brother, how will you lay down your life for a brother? You have money in your bag which thieves can steal from you; and if thieves don’t take it, and you don’t lose it while you’re alive, you’ll leave it behind when you die. What are you going to do with it? Your brother is hungry; he’s in need; perhaps he’s in difficulty, pressed by a creditor. He has nothing, but you do. He’s your brother. You were both bought; a single price was paid for you; both of you were redeemed by the blood of Christ. See whether you have mercy, if you have this world’s goods.
“How is this my concern?” you may say; “Am I to give my money so that he does not suffer trouble?” If this is what your heart replies, the love of the Father does not remain in you. If the Father’s love does not remain in you, you are not born of God. How can you boast of being a Christian? You have the name, but don’t have the deeds. But if the work follows the name, let people call you a pagan; by your deeds you show that you are a Christian. And if everyone calls you a Christian, but you don’t show yourself a Christian by your deeds, what good is the name when the reality is not found? (Augustine on I John, Hom. 6, 8; PL 35, 2024)