More bumper sticker theology


A long time ago (by this blog’s standards) I did a post or two about bumper sticker theology.  Sayings like “Marriage is 50/50”.  And how wrong they are.

Today’s bumper sticker is this one:

Charity begins at home.

Many people use this as an excuse to not give money to the poor outside of their own home, but first, let’s deal with the saying itself…

Where does it come from?

One of the people most referenced as the author of this quote is Sir Thomas Browne, an English physician, writer and theologian:

“But how shall we expect charity towards others, when we are uncharitable to ourselves? ‘Charity begins at home,’ is the voice of the world;” – Sir Thomas Browne, 1642

It was also said by other famous writers and theologians:

“‘Charity should begin at himself.” – John Wycliffe 1383

Charity begins at home, and justice begins next door.” – Charles Dickens, 1844

Now some will say that “charity” is the synonym of the theological virtue of agape, and it’s true that love (the other synonym) does begin at home.  But we usually thing of charity as something we give to the poor, and that’s the emphasis here.  To say “Charity begins at home” as an excuse not to give to the poor is wrong.

Of course, we must first take care of our selves, our families.  But does that mean we have to eat steak or have that 5th television, or that latest computer or car?  We can learn to live within our means to the degree that we can begin to share our blessings.  I foresaw the current economic situation several years ago.  I’d been living the American way, using the equity of my house as an ATM and getting the material goods I wanted.  My bank, to their credit, also foresaw that coming, and put a clamp on home equity loans.  This made us realize that we had to really live within our means, and try to find ways to accomplish that.  So we began to pay off debts, and work our way away from having any debt other than our home.  And, thanks to having a good job, we’ve been able to live much more frugally.  We only buy something new when something breaks.  And so, we now have means to give some of our blessing to others in need.

This is one way for Catholics to be missionaries, the way Christ asked us to be.

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