The experience of Charles, an ex-prisoner who, after a life on the edge, is welcomed by the Sisters of Mother Theresa, reveals the essence of charity: not practicing philanthropy, but partaking in the lives of others.

I met Charles for the first time at the house of the Missionaries of Charity. He was angry at the world. Forty years ago, when he was only 23 years old, he was put in prison for the crimes committed with his gang. He was arrested as the “leader” of the gang, although it is very probable that he had sacrificed himself to cover up for the other members of the gang. Only a few days after getting out of jail, he was involved in a terrible automobile accident and was abandoned in the hospital without any health insurance. The gang members, after forty years, had forgotten about him.
When I saw Charles for the first time, this 70-year-old man told me after having received his portion of breakfast from the Missionary Sisters, “These [sisters] don’t even know who I am! I can’t allow myself to be bossed around by women, especially by religious sisters!” It was a noble but a pathetic bawl. He was crying out against the orders of the sisters, in spite of the fact that he could not move nor dress himself without their help. He could hardly eat on his own.
A month later, I returned to see him with the GS students; however, Charles was nowhere to be found: he had left the convent in the hope of rejoining the gang. A few days later, I saw him back at the Sister of Mother Theresa. “Why did you come back?” I asked him. “I tried to live in Chicago, but no one wanted me back; rather, the other members of the gang all teased me, calling me a cripple. I came back to the convent in tears: these sisters were the only ones that really loved me.”
From that day on, I see him at Mass: he receives the Sacraments and talks about the greatness of the mercy of God. When I became the responsible of the GS, I began to invite a small group of GS students from the school where I teach, to do charitable work with the Missionary Sisters of Mother Theresa, so that they could see for themselves the true nature of man – so that they could meet Charles. The gesture of charitable work is revolutionary when it is done in a simple but a radical way. As a matter of fact, in the States, the word ‘charity’ is commonly intended as a commitment undertaken to solve problems of the world, similar to the attempts to eliminate all the limits for man to reach his happiness. For this reason, many young people get involved in fundraising of every kind for millions of causes. There is something true and positive about this spirit diffused among them; however, they have a myopic vision. When suffering cannot be transformed into joy and limits of others cannot be overcome, everything seems lose its meaning: it seems impossible to truly love somebody. Even though Mother Theresa is widely praised by the Americans, the Missionary Sisters of Charity nevertheless, continue to teach us about the difference between charity and philanthropy. The first and foremost desire of the Sisters is not to eliminate poverty – also because in some places it is practically impossible – but to unite themselves totally to the poor, sharing in their poverty. The daughters of Mother Theresa find happiness and fulfillment in becoming themselves the poorest of the poor, poorer than the poor, to “quench the thirst for their Beloved one.” Every month, I find myself before this discrete yet undeterred cry of love. With my GS students, I rediscover what Charles had learned: it is beautiful to depend on the One who desires to love every one of us.

Also read

All articles