Catholic Charities

Parish Diary

Fr. Peter Daly

December 13, 2007


            Charity is back.

            The sign on the front lawn of our parish property has been changed for the second time in a little over a year. It was changed from “Catholic Charities” to “Catholic Community Services.” Nobody, except the people who thought it up, liked the idea.

            So now, Charity is back in name of what the Church does for the poor in the name of Jesus.

            I’m not sure what the genesis of the name change was a couple of years ago. At the time I was told at the time that it sounded more “professional.” They thought it better expressed the wide range of services that Catholic Charities does for the community. It made us sound more like a social service agency and less like, well, a “charity.” Some people told me that they thought the idea of “charity” was itself demeaning.

            Whatever the reason, it did not take.

            So now we call it Catholic Charities again.

            I think that is as it should be.

            What is wrong with Charity?

            It is part of the fundamental identity of the Church. We have traditionally said that the church is a “community of charity and prayer.”

            Charity derives from the Latin word “caritas” which is, of course, sacrificial love. Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est. Where there is charity and love, there is God. I think it is a good place to start for the identity of any Catholic institution. If we forget charity and prayer, we might as well close our doors, no matter how much “service” we provide.

            Perhaps the basic problem is the self understanding of Catholic Charities. 

            Like many Catholic institutions they have grown large on government grants. As with Catholic hospitals and Catholic universities, Catholic Charities struggles with the Catholic identity question. Are they part of the witness of faith or not?

            Their employees are often not Catholics. Their buildings often have no identifying religious symbols. Their waiting rooms do not have pamphlets about the faith, Bibles or Catechisms. No one is ever invited to prayer.

            Catholic Charities funding comes largely from government grants. These funding sources, quite understandably, do not want a religious witness.  He who pays the piper calls the tune.

            If you talk to the pastors in my area, many of them do not feel that they are in way connected to Catholic Charities, or that Catholic Charities is connected to them.

            If price of growing large is growing away from our witness to Christ, the price is too high.

            Perhaps we all need to do a little work on our relationship with Catholic Charities. Pastors like myself need to help the local Catholic Charities offices more. And the local Catholic Charities offices need to see themselves as part of the work of the Church more.

            Our witness is not just another impersonal, secular, social service agency. Our witness is “charity” comes from our love of Christ. The love of Christ “impels us” as St. Paul says.

            I’m glad the sign has been changed back.

            It tells the world that our witness is charity, love, because of the one who has loved us first.