“Charity brings to life again those who are spiritually dead.” ~ Saint Thomas Aquinas
“For freedom, Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” These are the opening words of today’s 1st Reading (Galatians 5:1-6), wherein Saint Paul seeks to teach the people of Galatia what truly justifies them. Acts of righteousness and charity, as he explains, is what will set them free. Faith working through love. Not circumcision. Not an incessant preoccupation with the law. As he explains, efforts to justify one’s self by way of the law ultimately leads to separation from Christ.
As we reflect upon Paul’s opening words in greater detail, particularly his reference to the “yoke of slavery,” one can’t help but recall the recurring message of Jesus throughout His earthly ministry: I have come to set the captives free. These words had to be confusing at times to those who viewed captivity and freedom in the more literal sense of the word. The Israelites were of course already freed from the bonds of physical enslavement (Exodus 14). It is in today’s Gospel where Jesus gives a prime example of the type of freedom he longs for each of us to experience.
“Although you cleanse the outside of the cup and the dish, inside you are filled with plunder and evil.“ These are Jesus’ words to the Pharisee member who took umbrage at the fact that he did not prescribe to the traditional pre-meal washing. It is in this encounter that Jesus attempts to teach this man what justifies, what saves. Whether it be sanctimony, a preoccupation with material possessions or hypocrisy, these are but a few of the things that enslavers s is from the inside. Jesus felt compelled to correct him and thus teach him what was of value. Charity for instance.
Every act of charity shown towards another person washes away sin. By putting another person at the center of our lives, we become another person. We become like the one who gave everything for those he loved on the Cross. “Charity unites us to God,” explains Pope Saint Clement I. “There is nothing mean in charity, nothing arrogant. Charity knows no schism, does not rebel, does all things in concord. In charity all the elect of God have been made perfect.”
In John’s Gospel, we are told that he who has not love does not know God. Because God is love (1 John 4:8). May we seek to become agents of God’s love in all that we do. May charity be the fulcrum through which we enter into this agency. For as Charles Caleb Colton once said, “Should universal charity prevail, Earth would be a Heaven and hell a fable.”