Practicing Charity on the Way to Justice

“Charity is the cement that binds communities to God and persons to one another.” Vincent de Paul (CCD, 2:413)

For some, charity is construed negatively because it is equated to paternalism or perhaps a band-aid – – an approach that fails to address the root causes of systemic injustice. When viewed this way, Vincent de Paul’s notion of charity can strike us as inadequate and even problematic if applied uncritically to today’s world. Yet, to understand Vincent effectively we must re-contextualize his teaching and practice of charity in a meaningful way for our time, such as understanding it as the affective and relational dimension of social justice. Charity, or its Latin root “caritas,” translates closely to our present-day notion of love. Re-contextualizing Vincent’s charity, then, presents us with a challenge rather than a concept easily dismissed. Is justice truly possible in the absence of charity? How can we channel our generosity and compassion for others into actions that communicate love and move us towards justice?

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