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 is 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 also know 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.
So what is the motivation for doing charity work? There are those who give alms for the sake of ostentatiousness. They would like to put up a big show. They like to be known for their generosity and as philanthropists. Such people are deeply insecure people. It is certainly both psychologically and spiritually unhealthy if one needs to be seen and praised for what one is doing. 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 his health because he is always too 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 in condescension. They wear 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 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 investment. 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 that since God cannot be outdone in generosity, they give expecting to receive double or even more. This apparently 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 investments. Such ulterior and selfish motive of giving is not what St Paul is encouraging. Rather, he was speaking about the need to trust in divine providence and that the blessings 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. He wrote, “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 we are motivated by guilt, as many do, especially those who have so much money and the things of this earth but splurge all on themselves. So they are giving not out of compassion for the poor, or because they see God’s face in them, but simply 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 driven by 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 about how justice should be carried out. At times, they adopt Marxist approaches to justice and promote materialism and even communism.
Against such imperfect motives in charity, the scripture readings of today provide us the Christian motives for giving. Firstly, giving is based on the fact that God loves us. We are grateful to God for blessing us and hence because God loves us, we too want to love others as well and share His blessings with others. So giving, for a Christian, is done out of pure gratitude for 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 from fasting. 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 are giving to them because we have not gone through the sufferings, anxieties and fears they go through. 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 our own poverty, we cannot enrich others and identify with them.
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. For this reason, Jesus says that we must do good so that we can give glory to God the Father.
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 replace more than a deeper relationship with the Lord, compassion for our fellowmen, being one with them and with the Lord. This is what gives us the greatest joy. Indeed, I am a priest today precisely because of the joy of service to my brothers and sisters. In a certain sense, I am the richest person I could possibly be, for what greater riches can one have than the capacity to give, share and to love? If one cannot love and cannot give, he is truly a miserable man.
The paradox of giving is that the more you give, the more capacity the Lord will give you to give. The more you forget yourself in the service of others as Jesus tells us in the gospel, the more you will find yourself. It is for this reason that the secret of 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 who serve. There is more joy when we give spontaneously and selflessly without thinking of ourselves than worrying about what others may think about us. Indeed, contemplating on Jesus who gave Himself totally to us is the key to truly give ourselves selflessly to others. Only in Him alone can we find the strength to give and to empty ourselves.
Written by Most Rev Msgr William Goh
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.