1. We say "charity" to mean "love". Sometimes we think of charity as "doing good works for free". That sounds ok but let us go a bit deeper. In the New Testament we read that "God is love--God is charity" (1Jn4/16). Charity is so central in the social doctrine and as Pope Benedict wrote, "Charity is at the heart of the Church's social doctrine" (Caritas in veritate #2). Since God is charity then charity should really be central. The Vatican document Gaudium et spes tells us that charity is "the basic law of human perfection and hence of the world's transformation" (GS#38).
2. For a time, around the 1800's, there was a big question about the notion of charity. Pope Benedict XVI identified the problem. Works of charity like giving alms, said the Pope, can be a way of AVOIDING THE OBLIGATION TO WORK FOR JUSTICE. So the usual "charitable works" serve to soothe consciences of the rich "while preserving their own status and robbing the poor of their rights" (Deus caritas est #26). Then there was the question of the role of the Church, therefore. How can the Church help society WITH THE LOVE OF GOD if the Church is APART FROM POLITICAL POWER? So the Church was involved with the "works of charity" like helping poor for free. Would that be enough? Was that enough charity? Will the Church appear like the rich people using "works of charity" to avoid working for justice?
3. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII wrote his encyclical, the Rerum novarum. There we read about the sense of charity which the Pope situated in front of the justice of the government. Charity gives "the happy results we all long for"; it is "that true Christian charity which is the fulfilling of the whole Gospel law" (Rerum novarum #63). Much later Pope Leo XIII would add that charity is the way of befriending each person (see Graves de Communi #13). It is not enough to give others their due but also to be friends with others. Charity, said the Pope, is a command given by Christ to his disciples, ncluding us, of course; the command must be put to practice BECAUSE IT IS FROM THIS CHARITY WHERE INSTITUTIONS ARISE "for alleviating all the miseries by which mankind is afflicted" (Graves de Communi #15). Note then that for Pope Leo XIII charity has INSTITUTIONAL PROPORTIONS. It is the GLORY OF CHARITY to have institutions.
4. Much later, Pope Pius XI started saying that there is such a thing as SOCIAL CHARITY. Charity is not just a small personal affair between friends. It has to be social too. Society, said the Pope, cannot be ruled by class struggle. It also cannot just be ruled by the free forces of the market. What society needs, said the Pope, is SOCIAL CHARITY. It is alright that there be a good legal, juridical system. it will be good to have an social order. But, as the Pope added, Social charity "ought to be as the soul of this order, an order which public authority ought to be ever ready effectively to protect and defend" (Quadragesimo anno #79).
5. The very source of charity--of social charity is in our union with God. We are all FAMILY with the Father as Our Father. OUR SPIRITUAL LINKS HAVE THEIR FOUNDATIONS IN GOD. Charity then is to guide our actions AND IN CHARITY WE WANT TO SUBMIT OURSELVES TO THE JUSTICE AND EQUALITY WITHIN OUR SOCIAL INSTITUTIONS.
6. In the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church we read that Charity is "the highest and universal criterion of the whole of social ethics...." Charity is "more excellent way” (Compendium #204). Pope Benedict himself wrote an encyclical on Charity, and he entitled it as Deus caritas est, "God is Charity". Charity, for the Pope, is also linked with justice. The Church must do charity AS AN ORGANIZED ACTIVITY OF BELIEVERS. (See Deus caritas est #29).
7. Pope Benedict XVI still went on to write an encyclical on love too, Caritas in veritate. There he wrote that "justice is inseparable from charity". "Justice is the primary way of charity...an integral part of the love in deed and in truth". This is why "charity demands justice: recognition and respect for the legitimate rights of individuals and peoples. It strives to build the earthly city according to law and justice". But then charity also goes beyond justice because charity completes justice. (Caritas in veritate # 6). All social life must revolve around this practice of charity.
8. Let us conclude then. The notion of "charity" is not just about doing good things for free. It is not just about almsgiving, for example. Charity, in the social sense. has a structural and institutional feature and demands that the institutions be operated with justice.