MOTIVATION FOR DOING WORKS OF CHARITY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 COR 9:6-11; MT 6:1-6. 16-18]
As Christians, we all know that works of charity are an essential component of our faith. As St James tells us, “Faith without good works is dead.” (cf James 2:14-18) Yet, it is not enough that we do good works. We must examine the motives for doing good works, as this will determine how we go about being involved in charity work. It is not sufficient that we help the poor, but it is important for us to understand why we do it because the whys determine the goal of charity, both with respect to the one who gives and the one who receives our generosity.
Indeed, this is the intent of Jesus’ teaching on doing everything in secret. It does not really mean that we do everything in secret, for if that were so, there will be no bible or biographies of saints written. For earlier on in the same Sermon on the Mount, He said we must do good works and so give glory to the Father. So it is a question of motive rather than whether we do it publicly or secretly. It is a question of whether we are drawing attention to ourselves or truly giving glory to God and for love of our fellowmen.
So what is the motivation for doing charity work? There are those who give alms for the sake of ostentatiousness. They like to put up a big show; to be known for their generosity and as philanthropists. Such people are deeply insecure, for it is certainly both psychologically and spiritually unhealthy if one needs to be seen and praised for what one does. It means that such actions do not originate from a person’s inner convictions. Such a person does not have a center and will eventually destroy himself because he is always worried about public opinion. He is under the control of people’s expectations. He is never sure of himself. He loses focus and is a prisoner of his low self-esteem.
Then there are those who perform charity work out of condescension. They think too highly of themselves. They have no real compassion for the poor. They have a superiority complex, much like the Pharisees and the Scribes that Jesus condemned in the gospel. They despise others. The charity they give only makes the recipients feel worse and humiliated. Instead of helping them to regain their dignity, we rob them of the little dignity they have left. No one likes to feel as if he or she is a beggar. Even a beggar has his dignity. True charity does not make the recipient feel worse about himself, but feel loved and accepted for the condition he or she is in. It is not about sympathy but empathy.
Then there are those who give to charity as a form of investment, whether material or spiritual. Again, the focus is on themselves primarily; not on God or the poor. The more worldly ones use the poor as a kind of investment for they believe that the more they give to the poor, the more they will receive in return. It is based on the prosperity gospel which preaches that since God cannot be outdone in generosity, they should give, expecting to receive double or even more. This seems to be the motive suggested by St Paul in the first reading. He wrote, “Do not forget: thin sowing means thin reaping; the more you sow, the more you reap.” He added, “And there is no limit to the blessings which God can send you – he will make sure that you will always have all you need for yourselves in every possible circumstance, and still have something to spare for all sorts of good works.” What St Paul says, of course, is true, but not in the worldly sense of seeking to make good our investments. Such ulterior and selfish motive for giving is not what St Paul is encouraging. Rather, he was speaking about the need to trust in divine providence and that the blessings that God gives are more than just material gains but the joys of love, faith, friends and meaning.
Then there are those who do charity because of pressure, guilt, fear and punishment. They give reluctantly. St Paul speaks of the necessity of being a cheerful giver: “Each one should give what he has decided in his own mind, not grudgingly or because he is made to, for God loves a cheerful giver.” If one is motivated by guilt, as many do, especially those who have so much money and the things of this earth but splurge all on themselves, then they give not out of compassion for the poor or because they see God’s face in them but rather, they do so to soothe their guilt and conscience. They are also afraid that if they do not share their resources with others, bad karma will fall upon them, either on this earth or they will be punished in the next life. Hence, charity is squeezed out of them.
Finally, some are motivated by ideology and particularly with a political agenda. Their works of charity are basically coming from a humanitarian motive. Most of the time, it is rooted in their compassion for the poor and the suffering. Unfortunately, in the face of apparent failure in rectifying the situation, they become resentful of the injustices of the institutions. In their anger at the injustices of the world, they champion certain ideological doctrines that prescribe how justice should be carried out. At times, they adopt Marxist approaches to justice and promote materialism and even communism. Many use money and aid to gain economic and political powers so that they can use them to achieve their own goals. It is ultimately for their interests but under the pretext of charity.
Against such imperfect motives in charity, the scripture readings today provide us the Christian motives for giving. Christian giving must be based on faith alone.
Firstly, giving is based on the fact that God loves us. We are grateful to God for blessing us and because God loves us. In turn, we too want to love others as well and share His blessings with others. So for a Christian, giving is done out of pure gratitude to His love. It is a doing primarily for God and not for show or for attention. There is no need to, as God has given us all the attention by providing us our needs. We are already loved by Him and so we do not need to seek the love of the world. Hence, we do not take pride in our generosity but rather we want to boast of God’s goodness to us.
Secondly, it comes from our identification with our poor brothers and sisters. This identification comes firstly from our recognition that we are all brothers and sisters because we have a common Father. As His sons and daughters, and we as brothers and sisters, we want to care for each other as the Father cares for us. That is why today’s gospel is followed by the teaching of the Lord’s Prayer. If we dare to call God our Father, we must acknowledge that we are all brothers and sisters. And if God the Father loves them, we must also love them, for that is the way we show our love for God. As the Fathers of the Church taught, even what we rightly possess belongs to our brothers and sisters and are not ours to keep.
To accentuate our solidarity with our brothers and sisters, the Lord encourages us to fast. The Lord invites us to fast so that we can feel with the poor. Quite often, many of us cannot feel with the poor even though we give to them because we have not experienced their sufferings, anxieties and fears. Unless we are poor ourselves, we cannot truly feel with them and for them. Hence, even when helping the poor, we do not really identify with them. Sometimes, those who help the poor do it perfunctorily, as if it is a duty and task, without feelings. For this reason, it is not enough to be the Church for the poor, but we must be the Church of the poor. Unless, we know poverty, we cannot enrich others and identify with them. Only those who have suffered can truly help those in pain and suffering.
Thirdly, we want to give them Jesus. This must be the real reason for giving and helping. We need to let them know that Jesus loves them. By our works of charity, we are not simply offering material help but more importantly, through our tangible love, we want to assure them that God loves them still, even in their poverty and suffering. At the end of the day, no amount of material help can ever satisfy a person’s heart. Only God can fill the emptiness of our lives. We need love, security, peace and joy. So the ultimate purpose of giving is to give them Jesus, seen in and through us.
When we give from such motives, what would be our reward? We receive a greater joy and meaning in life that the world cannot give. The blessings we seek are not of this world but the joys of the kingdom of God which come from love, unity and selfless service. There is nothing that this world can give in exchange for a deeper relationship with the Lord. This is what gives us the greatest joy.
The paradox of giving is that the more you give, the more the Lord gives you the capacity to give. The more you give, the more liberated you are. And as you liberate yourself, you liberate those whom you serve. The more you forget yourself in the service of others as Jesus tells us in the gospel, the more you find yourself. It is for this reason that the secret to happiness is to do everything in secret; that is, focused not on self but on others. Hence, Jesus’ advice is this, “your Father who sees all that is done in secret will reward you.” By so doing, we preserve our own dignity and also the dignity of those we serve. There is more joy when we give spontaneously and selflessly without thinking of ourselves than worrying about what others think about us.
Indeed, contemplating on Jesus who gave Himself totally to us is the key to truly giving ourselves selflessly to others. Only in Him alone can we find the strength to give and to empty ourselves. A social worker who fails to contemplate on the face of the crucified and risen Christ will end up in frustration and despair when he realizes that he cannot solve all the material problems and eradicate poverty completely from this world. A man of faith sees Christ the Suffering One in his fellowmen and in his service, believing that Christ the Risen Lord will fill the suffering with peace, love and joy even in suffering. The Risen Christ gives us hope that God will remove all suffering and pain in the world to come.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.