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All for one and one for all: we have been given an abundance of good grace, and we're called to share it. (practicing catholic).

THE COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENSE DRONED. PLODDING back and forth before the jury box, he bludgeoned the panel with his case, belaboring every point, and filled the air with excruciating minutiae, lifting his chin and dragging his vowels in a most irksome way. The court stenographer rolled her eyes. The bailiff stifled a yawn. Even the judge had "Out to Lunch" written all over his face.

I was juror number four of 12 stuck three days in a courtroom fulfilling my civic duty. I hadn't made up my mind about his client, but this lawyer was guilty of first-degree boorishness, a capital crime in my book, and I was beginning to fantasize myself commanding the firing squad that would carry out his sentence at dawn.

Then it occurred to me that I had gone to Confession the weekend before, where I had been absolved of a considerable lack of charity and had resolved to amend my life. I reminded myself of this just as I got to the fun part of my daydream where I intoned "Ready! Aim!" Then, in an extraordinary push of virtue, no doubt aided by a massive infusion of grace, I clicked off the reverie, replacing it with charitable thoughts toward the lawyer who maundered on.

The word charity comes from the Latin word caritas, which most often appears in New Testament English translations as "love." The American Heritage Dictionary defines charity, in part, as "provision of help or relief to the poor," "benevolence or generosity toward others," and "indulgence or forbearance in judging others."

The lessons of charity were learned early for city kids like me growing up in the '50s. When we had a surplus nickel, Mom would send me out with a couple of the neighborhood kids to purchase a Three Musketeers, the 5-cent candy bar of that era, designed to be broken into three segments and shared. Charity meant that you always shared what you were given.

I've been given much. All that I have is a gift given to me by the Source of all that is. I have an abundance of good grace that provides me with tons of time, talent enough for three successful careers so far, and treasure adequate to pay this month's rent and keep me in cheeseburgers for another week or two. My life is a giant Three Musketeers bar; there's plenty to share.

Like all of us, I am called upon daily to witness to the love of God in my life by passing on that love to others. The annoying lawyer was a needy man. He lacked the gifts of personality and expression--although he had a nice watch. Maybe he had more money than I, but that day in the courtroom he needed my charity. For my own good, and for the good of all, I was obliged to set aside my dislike of the man and give him my attention.

The same holds true when I encounter the lady in the supermarket who thoughtlessly blocks my aisle with her shopping cart, or the gentleman on the freeway who drifts into the spot that rightfully belongs to me.

But are my acts of charity "like throwing water into the sea," as Don Quixote says? "What we are doing is just a drop in the ocean," wrote Mother Teresa. "But if that drop was not in the ocean, I think the ocean would be less because of that missing drop."

Additionally, because in my weakness I tend to love money and the things it will buy even more than I love my neighbor, I am obliged to recognize the claim the poor have on my resources. And every day, from the fellow on the sidewalk who asks for spare change, to the hungry child in the Catholic Relief Services appeal I receive in the mail, I am given ample opportunity to be charitable. It is crucial for me to do so because I am a needy man myself.

Jesus explains how it all works in Luke 6:38: "Give, and it will be given to you, good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, it will be poured into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back." From my point of view, it's a good arrangement.

By FATHER PAUL BOUDREAU, a priest of the Diocese of Norwich and author of Between Sundays: Daily Gospel Reflections and Prayers (Twenty-Third Publications).
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Title Annotation:Christian charity
Author:Boudreau, Paul
Publication:U.S. Catholic
Article Type:Column
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2003
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