Christian holiness is nothing other than charity lived to the full. (Pope Benedict, 13 Apr 2011)
I remember going to the store to buy our first diarios, a name given to the bags of food we give out regularly to people who struggle with a bare pantry and no more credit at the store. The idea is that we should always be able to provide a week’s supply of bare necessities in addition to prayers and an open heart to talk to. Before we left, Penny, our community leader, gave us a list of the items they typically buy for each diario. Most of the items made sense - rice, beans, oil, and coffee (because for a Costa Rican to be without coffee is as bad as dying of thirst!). But then, I noticed salt at the bottom of the list. Penny then said something that I’ll never forget: “Have you ever made beans without salt?”
That really put things into perspective for us. I mean, why would we withhold something that we’d never go without from a person who is already humble enough to beg for food? In fact, when we give a diario, giving salt is the only real charitable action we do! Everything else in that bag is simply providing social justice - allowing a family to eat beans and rice for a week is a basic human need that they are deprived of, and not providing basic necessities such as these would be stealing from them and is a sin (see Mat 25:28). It is only after all basic human needs are taken care of that we can say that we are giving freely and charitably to our neighbor.
The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity. (Apostolicam actuositatem, 8 S 5)
Our mission partner Lacy later explained that many times they will hide something in the bag that they feel the person might like or enjoy, such as a shirt or in the case of one family, a hairbow that the family’s little girl would wear proudly for the next several weeks while walking around. This is truly being the “salt of the earth” (Mat 5:13)! Salt is a flavor that is used to enhance all other flavors and not be tasted on its own. We are to always act in humility and meekness for the bringing up of our neighbor, even when providing alms to those in need, otherwise it is just seeking our own good and therefore is also not charity.
Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may not see them...so that your almsgiving may be secret. (Mat 6:1,4)
Now, a lot of our food uses a lot more salt because we like much stronger flavors than in most cultures. In many American restaurants, I find that salt becomes its own flavor, attempting to compete with everything else. How this is an analogy for the manner in which we tend to be Christians! If I do something good, I want it to make an impact, to be the biggest deed possible and, most importantly, to be known by all of my friends, family, strangers, and the entire internet. I want to be my own important flavor. But this isn't humility, and even worse, it glorifies me, not God.
When Jesus calls his followers the salt of the earth, in the same breath he calls us the light of the world, a city set on a mountain that cannot be hidden (Mat 5:14). I think we struggle with these two statements which can seem to contradict one another. We used to say that we’d only tell people about a small number of our good works, in the manner that you can only see the top point of an iceberg. But this still doesn’t seem to be what Jesus meant when he said “do not let your left hand know what your right is doing” when you give alms.
Then we met Team Phillippines on our first mission adventure, who seemed to overflow with joy, peace, and mercy. We couldn’t figure out why they had so much that it poured into everyone they met. It was really hard to miss these crazy missionaries! And then we started helping and giving of our own gifts...we also felt so joyful and at peace as well! That’s because “the fruits of charity are joy, peace, and mercy” (CCC 1829), and these fruits are so hard to hide they are “like a light on a lampstand” (Mat 5:15), shining into the darkness.
This is how it is with charity - if you live a charitable life to all that you meet daily, your charitable works aren’t being put on a lampstand, but the fruits of those works are so unmistakeably attractive that you can’t hide them.
“The necessary result of the love of charity is joy; since every lover rejoices at being united to the beloved… the effect of charity is joy. (St. Thomas Aquinas)
On a Mission
Two passionate parents and their four children are excited to bring His Word to everyone in need while living a life of Gospel poverty as missionaries. They invite you to join them on a journey to encounter our global neighbors that Jesus commands us to love through works of charity and service.