AA takes a broad approach to the virtue of charity, speaking, I think, along the broad Jewish notion of loving-kindness (hesed). The expression of charity is God’s will, we read:
While every exercise of the apostolate should be motivated by charity, some works by their very nature can become specially vivid expressions of this charity. Christ the Lord wanted these works to be signs of His messianic mission.
Assuming human nature, (Christ) bound the whole human race to Himself as a family through a certain supernatural solidarity and established charity as the mark of His disciples, saying, “By this will all … know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
Highest among the Church’s apostolic priorities?
“… pity for the needy and the sick and works of charity and mutual aid intended to relieve human needs of every kind …”
AA8 continues, teaching that technological advances in travel and communication, by bringing the world’s poor close to us and we to them, puts them within the necessary orbit of our concern. In other words, now that we see them on the evening news (if not the infomercials), we are obliged to assist.
Wherever there are people in need of food and drink, clothing, housing, medicine, employment, education; wherever (people) lack the facilities necessary for living a truly human life or are afflicted with serious distress or illness or suffer exile or imprisonment, there Christian charity should seek them out and find them, console them with great solicitude, and help them with appropriate relief. This obligation is imposed above all upon every prosperous nation and person.
Opportunists need not apply:
In order that the exercise of charity on this scale may be unexceptionable in appearance as well as in fact, it is altogether necessary that one should consider in one’s neighbor the image of God in which he has been created, and also Christ the Lord to Whom is really offered whatever is given to a needy person. It is imperative also that the freedom and dignity of the person being helped be respected with the utmost consideration, that the purity of one’s charitable intentions be not stained by seeking one’s own advantage or by striving for domination, and especially that the demands of justice be satisfied lest the giving of what is due in justice be represented as the offering of a charitable gift. Not only the effects but also the causes of these ills must be removed and the help be given in such a way that the recipients may gradually be freed from dependence on outsiders and become self-sufficient.
A few comments here:
1. The expression of care should be “unexceptional.”
2. The importance of upholding human dignity.
3. The striving for purity of motives.
4. This apostolate is more properly considered an expression of justice, not generosity.
5. The “teach to fish” approach is superior to the “feed a fish” approach.
Community building is clearly a vital portion of the lay apostolate, which flies in the face of those who might suggest that a simple expression of charity alone is all that is required. This is why I find it hard to fault political organizers in the third world, as many Catholics (and others) do. While I have no particular love for marxism, especially expressions of its philosophy that demean the human person, it is true that political corruption and excess in Latin America and Africa long predate the emergence of liberation theology. Some (though not all) liberation theology advocates may have been on the wrong track, but only rarely did their opponents have anything practical or substantive to offer as an alternative to develop personal independence and material self-sufficiency. AA8 concludes by stating that participation in charity as well as social assistance is needed:
Therefore, the laity should hold in high esteem and, according to their ability, aid the works of charity and projects for social assistance, whether public or private, including international programs whereby effective help is given to needy individuals and peoples. In so doing, they should cooperate with all (those) of good will.