The Ethic of Gratuity and MLK

The path of peace without violence is not an easy one. But when it is done well, it is a jewel to behold.

A striking passage in pope Benedict XVI’s encyclical– Charity in Truth (June 29, 2009)— made the following point: even if justice constitutes the basis of all society, it needs the “ethic of gratuity” in order to function well. Justice is to give another his due; charity compels us to give what’s ours to another. So charity goes beyond justice. Justice is “the minimum measure”. Charity demands justice. That means intrinsic to charity there is some form of justice. Here is the point– society is built according to law and justice, both commutative and distributive, but charity transcends justice and completes it in the logic of giving and forgiving. Society flourishes not merely by relationships of rights and duties, but fundamentally by relationships of gratuitousness, mercy, and communion (Caritas in Veritate, 6).


As we remember Martin Luther King today, it is worth pointing out how well he brought about this ethic of gratuity in the civil right movement in the 1960s. He commenced that movement in order to put a final end to slavery, oppression, discrimination, segregation, and injustice suffered by the black community. He chose the path of non-violence although in all justice, he would have been right to have recourse to revenge. Despite the many deaths, burning of churches, police brutality he and his people endured, he remained firm in the conviction that darkness couldn’t drive out darkness. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love and reconciliation can do that. Unlike his predecessors Malcom X and co., he preferred peace because he knows unarmed truth and unconditional love always have the final word in reality. After the movement, he could have asked for restitution and justice from the US for all the many years of violence and injustice the blacks have suffered, but he chose to move on. he was moved by Charity.

bby1dal-imgCharity ennobles the act of the human person. Because he was acting in charity, even those who had no particular interest in the movement joined him. Charity moves the heart of others. So, because of his choice and vision and the principle of gratuity from which he acted, his dream of seeing black and white forming one community was realized. Had he chosen to do otherwise would his dream ever become true? Where would America be today? Would America ever rule the world? While we will never know, what we do know is that he will remain a model to follow for generations.

After WWII, Germany was in dire need of the principle of gratuity. The world chose and rightly so not to punish the German nation despite the many atrocities they had caused and so allowed them to build itself up and embrace its dignity again. The world works so hard to unite West and East Germany after the war, and in 1989, it became a reality. Had the world applied strict justice on the Germans, where would they be today? Because of this gratuity, there are no grudges between Germany and world today. I would say it is this principle that drives the ‘welfare system’ in America. So, clearly many don’t deserve food, housing, social security benefit, free Medicare etc., but is it justice to let them wallow in their misery? If it is, is it charitable to do so? So while justice must always be preferred to injustice, we need to leaven of charity to give savor to the common good. otherwise, the society cannot function well.

The Little Way is Lived in Hidenness (Part 3)

The Little Way is not about self-praise, but a school of small acts done with great love for God’s glory. Humility, self-effacement, obedience, hiddenness, unfaltering charity and all the discipline they require are what define St. Therese’s Little Way. For her, God does not demand great deeds, recitation of long prayers, or ascetical practices, but only gratitude and self-surrender. “Offer to God the sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” (Ps. 50:14).“God has need of our love; He has no need of our works”.[1] Small acts done with love exceed great deeds done for personal glory, gratification or simply out of obedience. So, to perfect ourselves, we ought to love God above all things and humble ourselves below all things. The aim is to perform small acts of love without reckoning, or being noticed. God who sees in secret will notice. “In reality, I am only what God thinks of me. I expect the praise I deserve only from God”.[2] My joy is to “Appear before God empty-handed, and spend your treasures as you gain them”.[3] Hiddenness and self-forgetfulness are two of the most important themes in Therese’s life and teachings. After all, did not Christ himself live a hidden life for 30 years?unknown

She became devoted to the suffering ‘Holy Face’ of Christ in order to enwrap herself in hiddenness. According to Von Balthazar, “her whole life in Christ is concentrated into her devotion to the Holy Face”.[4] In fact, the whole Monastery had a devotion to the suffering Holy Face of Jesus that was reflected on the veil of Veronica. This included an outdoor shrine in the cloister garden. Therese was constantly looking to see the hidden Holy Face of Jesus in everyone and everything. Her devotion to the ‘Holy Face’ even exceeds her devotion to the Child Jesus. This devotion became the centerpiece of her spirituality. Behind the Holy Face, she disappeared so that Christ may appear for all to see. Here lies the depth of her humility.

unknown-1Hiding behind the Holy face of Christ was a mean to console those through whom Christ is suffering. First, through the Holy Face, she associates the suffering of her father, who was mentally ill, by extension all sufferings, to the passion of Christ. She thus received permission to add to her religious name ‘of the Holy face’. Thus, her complete name became “St. Therese of Lisieux of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face”. It was the mirror through which she conceived Christ.[5] Secondly, her devotion to the Holy Face was a way to reawaken the indifferent and the complacent. As someone puts it, “This is a commentary on our callousness, our myopia, our devaluation of what is precious, our blindness to the poor, and our lack of awareness in our relationship to God”.[6] She believes ”to live from love is to dry Christ’s face”[7] in the needy. Thirdly, her attraction to the Holy face was her own way to hide herself so that her acts may glorify God instead of herself. Thus, she made the words of the suffering servant entirely hers: “…There was no beauty or majesty in him. There was nothing special about… him. People looked down on him. They didn’t accept him. He knew all about pain and suffering… (Cf. Is 53: 2-3). Therese thus wished to be hidden from all view, go unnoticed, and be forgotten by all in order to find her beloved. “Christ is a hidden treasure. To find a hidden thing, we must be hidden ourselves”.[8] So, our life like the divine face, hidden with Christ in God, is revealed in the same measure as it is hidden in the divine mysteries. In this ambiance, the soul is no longer set before the veil that hides Christ’s face, but behind it.[9] Consequently, Christ’s face will be revealed in her, and so one cannot look at her without seeing the face of Christ.[10] This veiled face becomes the medium through which Christ is consoled and wretched souls are saved.

[1]Story of a soul, 113

[2] Stertenbrink, 126

[3] story of a soul, Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, 277

[4] Von Balthazar, 157

[5] Von Balthazar, 157

[6] unknown author, Key Elements in Therese’s spirituality, p2

[7] ibid, from her last conversation,

[8] von Balthazar, 158

[9] von Balthazar, 158

[10] von Balthazar, therese, 159