Return to Christianity as the Root of Charity
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 23:10
Every college campus has its dogmas — those beliefs that no one dares to question. Here at Georgetown, the term “social justice” seems to occupy that privileged place, attracting more attention than any sort of value of its kind. Its vogue reflects Georgetown’s Jesuit and Catholic character, in which social justice plays an essential role. At the same time, the pervasiveness of the term and the carelessness with which we use it undermines our community’s pursuit of authentic justice and charity.
The danger stems from the temptation among students and administrators to discuss social justice while distorting the Christ-centered faith that gives it meaning. Simply put, when deprived of the fullness of Christian truth, charity loses its shape, becoming like a ball of Play-Doh that can be molded into any object the owner desires. We see much of this child’s play on the Hilltop, where the language of “social justice” and “Jesuit values” suddenly morphs into convenient rhetorical weaponry to advance political, social and economic platforms. This problem is particularly acute among those groups who advocate positions hostile to the Catholic tradition. They would have us believe that their positions are the true orthodoxy, despite possessing agendas that bear more resemblance to a political ideology than to scripture.
It is for this reason that the mission of a Catholic university is to educate students in the truth of the human person — the truth as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ, who taught humanity the fullness of human living. Teaching the Christian truth is not an “imposition” but rather a propsition that carries with it the promise of authentic liberation.
In his social Encyclical, “Caritas in Veritate,” Pope Benedict XVI warned against the perils of detaching charity from truth. “A Christianity of charity without truth would be more or less interchangeable with a pool of good sentiments, helpful for social cohesion, but of little relevance.” If this is correct, the tendency to commandeer Catholic principles for political ends does not even have the benefit of cultivating campus dialogue. In fact, it damages dialogue, injecting ambiguity and confusion into issues that have no shortage of either. Campus dialogue becomes a static pond of relativism that lacks authentic dynamism and conversion toward the truth.
Authentic human development must be anchored in something more than good intentions or novel interpretations of Church doctrine. It must be grounded in a coherent understanding of the natural law, one that recognizes the same nature and same origin of all human beings. Utilitarian and secular perspectives are tenuous foundations upon which to establish an adequate vision of charity. Human rights and human dignity must be recognized as gifts from God not donations from the powers that be.
Despite these problems of Georgetown’s campus life, the Knights of Columbus is one student group actively seeking to defend the Catholic vision of charity and truth. Our mission is simple: to challenge young men to live a life of active faith while serving others. Specifically, we encourage each member to develop his spirituality while dedicating one Saturday of every month to service. Our projects include Hands-on-Housing, Grate Patrol and diaper drives.
But just like Christ’s ministry, the work of the Knights of Columbus is not confined to acts of mercy. As a college council, we strive to bear witness to a certain intellectual charity. This virtue should not be confused with mere “tolerance” or “openness” — two social truces we hear much about here at Georgetown. Intellectual charity is far more demanding than merely coexisting with our fellow students. After all, Jesus Christ tells us not simply to coexist but to “love one another” and “preach the Gospels.” Our Council answers Christ’s call by sponsoring the Cardinal O’Connor Conference on Life as well as the McGivney Lecture Series.
What motivates the Knights of Columbus is not social recognition or politics. Instead, we are inspired by the universal vocation of love and the conviction that we are most fully human when we, like Jesus Christ, respond to this vocation with a sincere gift of ourselves. Charity is not a commandment or a duty. It is our spontaneous reaction to the self-sacrificial love revealed to us in the figure of the crucified Christ — the ultimate standard of charity.
Andrew Schilling is a senior in the College. He is a member of Knights of Columbus.