Labels and Privilege

Lent calls us to fast, pray, and give alms (charity).

How are we practicing charity? Is our charity performed when convenient? Maybe reluctantly? Maybe carefully planned so that it does not disturb our comfort: cleaning out a closet and giving away a few items expendable to us; dropping a few extra dollars into the collection basket on Sunday; buying a bag of groceries for the food bank.

I recently read of someone saying to a person providing a charitable act, “I don’t want your charity. I want your privilege.” Boy, did that make me think! Why did this person say this? He sounded so ungrateful.

How could you or I give someone privilege? What is privilege? According to Dictionary.com, privilege is a right, immunity, or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most. 

If I said to the individual, “You are right. We can work together to help you acquire privilege,” I would quickly see that acquiring privilege is impossible. Privilege is a label that says you were born into advantageous circumstances. The individual in poverty cannot be reborn in privilege.

So where do we go from here? First, I think that we must avoid using labels like privileged, refugee, racist, alien, et cetera, and instead use the term that binds us: brothers and sisters created by God.

Then, we act in common brotherhood: we take care of each other. My answer to the individual struggling in my midst becomes not a hand-out, but a hand-up out of poverty. It means providing the tools to get out of poverty. It will be messy and inconvenient. We will need to love the brother or sister regardless of the circumstances – without passing judgment.

As St. Vincent de Paul, the patron saint of charity said to his Ladies of Charity in the early 17th century:

You will find out that Charity is a heavy burden to carry, heavier than the kettle of soup and the full basket. But you will keep your gentleness and your smile. It is not enough to give soup and bread. This the rich can do. You are the servant of the poor, always smiling and good-humored. They are your masters, terribly sensitive and exacting masters you will see. And the uglier and the dirtier they will be, the more unjust and insulting, the more love you must give them. It is only for your love alone that the poor will forgive you the bread you give to them.” ~ St. Vincent de Paul

Where do we begin  practicing true charity today? That’s our Lenten challenge.

God, give me the grace to serve my brother and my sister in need, but first, give me the grace to see them.

Human Kindness

Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash