Faith vs. charity in day-to-day life

by Mary Ann McGivern

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I spoke yesterday on an evangelical television station about some legislation being written to reform criminal sentencing. Then the host asked me, "What is the role of your faith in choosing to do this work?"

Well, actually, I don't think my faith has a role per se. I didn't say that on television. I talked about love and quoted St. Vincent de Paul about leaving Christ at the altar to answer Christ ringing the doorbell.

(Here's an interesting aside. I just did a quick Google search in case it was not St. Vincent whom I had quoted. Among the top 10 search results I got were "God's promises are real," "Inspiring Text Messages," "The Kneeling Christian -- How God answers Prayers" and "Send a text message to God's phone number." Who knew?)

But I did make a mental note to think a little more carefully about the role of faith in my day-to-day work. I have faith in the goodness of human nature, but I suspect that comes more from my experience than from my internalization of Genesis, where God saw that the works of creation were good.

It seems to me I'm of the "Imitation of Christ" mode. That's not an intellectual model of faith, but more "Jesus as exemplar." (It's been a long time since I've used that word exemplar. It would be a hard one to explain in a sound bite on evangelical television.) "Love one another," "Do good to those who hurt you," "Give your cloak as well" and "Walk the extra mile" are injunctions that come to my mind often.

And yet I don't think I can claim faith in the words of Jesus as a driving force. The truth is, people's suffering moves me and when I can figure out how to take action, I do it. I'm an activist. I think it does come down to love, not faith.

That's not to take anything away from God. Faith, hope and charity are the gifts of God and the greatest of these is charity. Perhaps instead of asking, "What is the role of faith in your life?" we should be asking, "what is the role of charity?"

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