VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Because God refuses to keep his love to himself, seeking those who turn away and need him most, believers must do the same and go where love is needed, Pope Francis said.
“How I wish that everyone in the church, every institution, every activity would show that God loves humanity,” he said, “not with words, but with concrete love.”
Concrete service rooted in God’s love can make “every person feel loved by the father, loved as his son or daughter and destined for eternal life with him,” he said Feb. 26.
The pope spoke to more than 200 representatives from Catholic charitable organizations and bishops’ conferences taking part in a conference at the Vatican Feb. 25-26 to mark the 10th anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 encyclical on charity, “Deus Caritas Est.”
“The act of charity is not, in fact, simply almsgiving to ease one’s conscience,” Pope Francis told participants. It includes a loving concern for others and “desires to share friendship with God.”
God’s very nature is love and charity, he said. “He is unique, but not solitary; he cannot be alone, he cannot be closed in on himself because he is communion, he is charity and charity by its nature is communicated and shared.”
“Even if man turns away from him, God does not remain distant, but goes out to meet him,” which is why he sent his son as savior, the pope said. This reaching out — this mercy — is God’s way “of expressing himself to us sinners, his face that looks at us and cares for us.”
Charity and mercy are the ways God is defined, acts and exists, the pope said. Divine charity is “the compass which orients our lives” and informs how Christians are to see, understand and love their brothers and sisters.
Charitable organizations are important because they offer people “a more dignified and human life, which is needed more than ever.”
Meanwhile, during the congress, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila said the church, its sacraments and evangelization efforts are weakened when they are separated from the duty to lovingly serve others through charity.
“The service of charity,” he said in his talk Feb. 26, “presupposes and is inseparable from the two other responsibilities of the church, namely the proclamation of the Word of God” and celebrating the sacraments.
“The non-connectedness of the three weakens all of them and the church’s witness,” said the cardinal, who is president of Caritas Internationalis.
He reflected on an observation made by Joachim Reber, a German Catholic scholar, who said many Christian parishes end up delegating charitable activity to outside professional groups.
“The poor, the weak, the shabby, all these are sent away. Along with them also those who care for these outcasts are more and more separated from the ‘ordinary Christians’ and their parishes. … Many communities have engendered an atmosphere that does not welcome people who are ashamed of their misfortune or their failure,” he quoted Reber as writing.
“Those who remain are the virtuous, the successful, the righteous Christians” who end up being the focus of the pastoral projects, Reber wrote, the cardinal said.
When the service of charity is not an integral part of parish life, it can end up dividing the parish, Cardinal Tagle said. “‘Active parishioners’ seldom get involved in service of charity. Those in charitable organizations do not attend Bible or worship services.”
While all parishioners should become more active in the work of charity, those who care for people in need must be professionally competent, too, because human needs are “very complex,” the cardinal said. Goodwill, while necessary, “may not be enough.”
“Competence in the area of service is itself a sign that the poor and needy persons are being given the best that they deserve,” he said. Lacking the appropriate skills, training and motivation “demean the people being served” as well as contribute to failing to deliver positive outcomes, he added.
At the same time, he said, being competent is not contrary to having and deepening one’s spiritual formation.
When asked about the problem of governmental or secular agencies that offer aid in exchange for certain policies that go against church teaching, the cardinal highlighted Pope Francis’ warning against “ideological colonialization” which hurts families in the developing world.
“Partnership is not bad,” he said, but it must be made clear from the start that a partnership respects the values of the other.
Cardinal Tagle said he wondered whether part of the problem of getting involved in potentially compromising associations might be rooted in a belief that charity depends exclusively upon having the necessary funding.
“Sometimes we are made to feel that mission and charity depend so much on money” that if there is no funding, then “nothing moves.”
While money is needed, it shouldn’t be the determining factor, he said, and people should consider all the ways they can still love and serve if funding dries up or falls through.