To trace the origins of the word charity you have to follow an etymological path that winds back from the Anglo-French charité, to the Latin caritas meaning love. Some scholars push its frontiers further back to the Sanskrit word for love, k ma.
My old, battered and Duct-Taped Webster’s New Collegiate has held a privileged place on my desk since 1962. It provides a clearly politically incorrect definition of charity by contemporary standards. It reads “Act of loving all men as brothers because they are sons of God.”
A contemporary definition would insert humanity for ‘all men’ and add ‘and sisters’ into its formulation. This would most likely be regarded as a long-overdue act of linguistic charity towards the somewhat more than half of our species that the original definition neglected.
A rising number of folk in our increasingly secular world at best argue about the existence of a deity or deities. Lately we have seen their punches and counterpunches exchanged on ads covering the sides of buses in places like London, England. At worse many see that argument as a complete waste of breath. Probably in most instances both atheists and agnostics alike would expunge the rest of the definition.
The concept of charity, however defined, persists. It remains stubbornly holding out in the humane psyche no matter what creed or lack of one a person professes. In the deepest times of corporate greed and institutionalized selfishness we have responded generously to others in need.
Now in what is emerging as the most challenging economic crisis in our time, the call to charity in its broadest forms must be answered on a heroic scale. Compounded by a looming global environmental crisis foreshadowed by events like last week’s bush fires in Australia, though, there is a strong tendency towards actions that place the highest priority on self-preservation, national and personal. In economic terms this is translated as protectionism, a basic anti-globalism. It can be coupled to an atavistic abandonment of the social and environmental safeguards we have all too slowly developed over the last century.
Last week the Food Bank Society of Whitehorse held its first annual general meeting. This week the founding executive director of PovNet, Penny Goldsmith, came to Whitehorse to talk about the future of this online resource for the national anti-poverty community. Next Thursday at 5 p.m. the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition will hold its monthly meeting at
Maryhouse at 504 Cook Street.
These events all share a common thread. They promote charity at its most fundamental level, responding to the needs of the abandoned, marginalized and neglected in our society.
This week Dr. Chandu Claver from the Philippines came to Whitehorse as the 2009 Development and Peace Solidarity Speaker. He challenged us to remember that we cannot limit our charity to the Yukon or even Canada. Our actions or inactions have an impact far from our shores.
Today our concern must take on a global dimension. Last Monday a report entitled Philippines — Mining or Food? was launched. Parliamentarians, indigenous rights advocates, and representatives of church and non-governmental organizations stood side by side at Westminster in London, England, following on a similar action in Manila, Philippines.
They called for “a moratorium on new mining in the Philippines, a review of existing mining projects, and a withdrawal of international investment in mining until proper procedures are in place to protect human rights and the environment.”
A current petition Development and Peace campaign mirrors this effort. It calls on the Canadian government to take action on our behalf. “Standing with the people of the Global
South, we insist that you develop legal mechanisms to hold Canadian mining companies accountable for their actions abroad.” More than 41,000 people have signed their online petition (http://www.devp.org/devpme/eng/education/petitionprimeminister-eng.html).
This Valentine’s Day maybe we can show our love by an act of charity, local or global. After all, charity is rooted in love.
Saturday, February 14 — Valentine’s Day now a secular celebration of love, originally honoured St. Valentine, a third-century Christian martyr and the love of God he represented.
Sunday, February 15 — Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time. A suggested reading is Mark: 1: 40-45.
Sunday, February 15 — Nirvana Day is a Buddhist observance of the death of the Buddha.