Practicing True Christian Charity

God could have come to us in a blazing chariot flanked by light, laurels, and lavish luxury. He could have chosen to be born to a king and queen or another form of royalty. He could have chosen to become a man with status, wealth, and power. Any number of outstanding traits could have made His ministry on Earth an easier journey. But God chose to send His Son to us as the lowly son of a carpenter and a virgin, born in Bethlehem and raised in Nazareth. He was born in a stable, surrounded by animals, and placed in a manger. And yet, nobody loved more than Our Lord.

How can we emulate such love and poverty in our own personal stations in life?

Patrick Conley welcomed Fr. Joseph Illo onto an episode of The Inner Life to discuss the spirit of living true Christian charity and how we can better serve the poor around us.

Most of us will not be called to literally do what Mother Teresa or St. Francis of Assisi did and give away all of our material possessions in the spirit of living a life of detachment for the sake of the poor. However, we are all called to embrace the love of poverty in our own personal ways. As St. Francis referred to it, “Lady Poverty” is a “fairer bride than any of you have ever seen.”

God came to us as a helpless, impoverished child. In that way, every poor person manifests Jesus, and we are called not to see a person for their defects but for Christ within them. And further, every poor person that we encounter should be treated as though we are treating Christ Himself. These encounters with the less fortunate are opportunities to express our love, our generosity, and our selflessness for God’s children.

And as Fr. Joseph pointed out, they are not only God’s children, but they are Our Lady’s chosen, too. Almost invariably, Our Lady appears to the impoverished, the downtrodden, and the excluded: the children of Fatima, Adele Brise, Juan Diego, Bernadette Soubirous, etc.

“The Lord loves the poor because the poor understand Our Lord’s love better than most. They’re humble and [Jesus] came as a poor person,” said Fr. Joseph. There is an intrinsic link between poverty and humility, he says, because “the poor know their need”. They are more equipped than others to prioritize their needs over their desires because it’s a matter of survival. They understand more clearly the concept of spiritual hunger and that to sate it, they require spiritual nourishment.

The rich have that same spiritual need for nourishment but their judgment is often clouded by their desires and their material possessions. Mother Teresa was famous for requiring herself and her sisters to live without luxuries of any kind so that they could better understand the plight of the people they served and the hunger for spiritual and physical nourishment that they needed. The poor didn’t have many clothes, so the sisters only kept two habits each. The poor didn’t have any shelter from the heat, so the sisters refused air conditioning and fans.

To truly understand the needs of another, you must meet them on their level. It is a very different thing for us to donate a few dollars to charity than it is for us to leave our homes and its comforts to go serve the poor on the streets of our cities, build homes for the homeless, or feed the starving people of third world countries. Both are good, but true Christian charity requires real sacrifice, dying to oneself, and living in poverty as our neighbors do.

Fr. Joseph spoke about his own time serving the poor in Calcutta, saying that while their levels of poverty are truly unimaginable to anybody living in the first world, there was a certain simplicity to their extreme conditions. Their only need was food, water, clothes, shelter, and medicine. They were spiritually rich, faithful to God, and trusting in His divine providence. Those who lack God are in a far more dire situation. Spiritual poverty is an epidemic, and we are called to minister to those people just as we are called to serve the poor.

Tune in to The Inner Life weekdays at 11am CT

John Hanretty serves as a Digital Media Producer for Relevant Radio®. He is a graduate of the Gupta College of Business at the University of Dallas. Besides being passionate about writing, his hobbies include drawing and digital design. You can read more of his daily articles at and on the Relevant Radio® app.