Without a realization and admission of selfishness in your life, you lack the true charity required to successfully live out marital love. Therefore, your dating efforts are extremely risky.
I say “true charity” because there is an excessive, and an all too often undetected, amount of false charity. Many believe this is a well developed virtue of charity, when it is actually selfishness. This false sense of charity is the cause of many breakups of couples who are otherwise perfectly fine together.
Most love in dating and courtship starts with the feelings of love. We are happy to do things that benefit you or make you feel loved, as long as I am happy to do it and get something in return.
Charity is necessary for authentic love to be lived out. Love is sacrificial, stemming from will, and requiring actions purely for the benefit of another. But it is also stems from feelings and emotions that assist the will to be more readily willing to give to the other, while at the same time gaining benefit for the self.
A sacrifice, by definition, cannot include a personal benefit to self. It is a pure action toward the benefit of another, with nothing in it for yourself, and typically accompanying some kind of suffering (which, by definition, is a negative thing).
Charity is sacrifice. Voluntary sacrifice, to be exact. True charity is selfless, therefore, often painful or difficult, but it is also a deliberate decision. You have a choice and the recipient of the charity is not entitled to your charitable act.
Charity is not a man holding the door open for a woman. That’s just courtesy and gentlemanly behavior, which fosters development of charity. Charity is not taking your sick child to the emergency room at 3:00am. That is sacrificial and does not feel good, for sure, and does come close to charity, but duty requires you to act in this situation. To do it is expected, and to not act is a sin, as well as harmful to the sick child.
Giving a drunk friend the only cash you have to get home for his cab fare to get safely home is charity. Tolerating an irritable boyfriend or girlfriend while on a date without letting it annoy you because of the time you set aside for it and the money you are spending, but rather being sincerely patient and accepting is charity. Giving up your night out with friends, which you were looking forward to, in order to stay home with your spouse who had a bad day and needs comforting, is charity.
Charity does not have to be on a “save the world” scale, as you can see by these examples. In fact, charity is most often in the little things. They are the every day opportunities presented to us by God through the people in our lives. These little acts of charity, done without resentment, develop the habit of sacrificial love which preps the person for larger acts of charity. The action was not required, but knowing it benefits another, you decide to do it. Voluntarily. Without any benefit to yourself.
The misconception about charity, especially for people claiming pious religious practice, is that we must be feel happy about the act of charity and display that outwardly. No! To have charity does not require it is accompanied by feelings of delight and enthusiasm, with all smiles and gladness. Charity is sacrifice. It accomplishes the goal of the selfless act intended, despite any feeling about it.
But charity done with joy gives the act more power, specifically to convert another. People are affected by witnessing someone doing charitable acts with joy. Because joy in sacrifice goes against nature. This is where love is not enough. Charity matters to prove authentic love is alive. Typical romantic love is selfish because there is pleasure in the acts of love, and often pleasant actions are returned from the beloved. True charity, done with joy, provides a benefit to the other and a peace within the giver because they have chosen to do something selfless for God’s sake.
This is the secret of true charity; namely, that it is done for love of God alone. God calls us to love our neighbor, love our enemy, do good to those who persecute or hate you, love as Jesus loved. Perhaps there is a selfishness in true charity if you consider that you want to please God in your action. If that is your desire, then please God, let there be more selfishness like this in the world!
The act of love that hurts, that truly sacrifices something, that is done voluntarily, and finds pleasure in the sacrifice because of the knowledge of pleasing God in the process, is true charity. True charity has unlimited power to produce grace in others that are directly or indirectly affected by the act done with joy.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta is a shining example. The beam on her face as she picked up the downtrodden of the streets and lived a life of poverty is the essence of charity.
But marriage itself is a form of charity. Think about it. If entered correctly, there is a desire to serve the other out of love for them, in the name of love for God. Often, love demands service regardless of whether love is returned. That is charity. This kind of love can endure for life when we know that the affection we all desire comes from Christ, Who showers us with affectionate grace when human affection is wanting.
Those who are dating need to develop an awareness and be conscious of charity in action with those they date, and how they themselves are charitable as they date others. The distraction of romantic love very strong. This love is not enough. There is still too much of a “what’s in it for me” reality to this kind of love. Learn how to step back and observe little acts of charity from your prospects for marriage, and reflect on your post-date acts of charity. Have you both been a witness to Christ in true charity? Do you display a genuine concern for the other’s well-being first before your own selfish desires?
You should want to be someone your future spouse can feel safe with, knowing that their happiness is your happiness. You should want someone who feels the same about your happiness. False charity would pit you both against each other to see who can be more charitable, and cause problems that can kill an otherwise wonderful, and God-intended union. False charity is a selfish desire to do good for the other and resents when not able to do so and in the manner desired.
True charity is detached from any pleasure in doing what is beneficial for another. It’s voluntary. It doesn’t count costs. It accepts what is painful. Live true charity. Then you will be living true love that makes for successful marriage.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, is not pompous, it is not inflated. It is not rude. It does not seek its own interests. It is not quick-tempered. It does not brood over injury. It does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
These are the words of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians. They are the very embodiment of charity.
Anthony Buono is the founder of Avemariasingles.com. For thousands of Catholic singles, Anthony offers guidance, humor, understanding, and practical relationship advice. Visit his blog at 6stonejars.com.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.