Growing up, most of us were probably taught that when someone does something nice for us, we should say thank you. As a result, we have come to expect gratitude when we do something kind for another. Yet, sometimes—perhaps even often—we find reluctant acceptance, suspicion, or even hostility. This can make us hesitant to continue to pursue charitable activity. It is good every once in a while to reexamine our motives. Jesus tells us in the Gospel of Luke,
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (6:32-36)
Jesus’ command to be merciful can seem abstract at first, but it becomes concrete through the corporal works of mercy, which the Church recommends as charitable acts: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit prisoners, bury the dead. What is more, we are to expect “nothing in return.” It is easy not to expect anything material back—no one expects the poor to repay what was donated to them, but it is far more difficult not to expect gratitude. By recalling when we have been ungrateful to God for his mercy and kindness, however, we can fortify ourselves to give unselfishly to others.
Let’s turn to St. Antoninus, whose feast is today, for a model in this thankless charity. Saint Antoninus, a Dominican friar who lived in the early 15th century, was well known both for his contributions to moral theology and for his love of the poor. As Archbishop of Florence, he focused his attention and resources on the poor. He instructed those who established homes for the care of the suffering, whether it be from malady, poverty, or abandonment, to persevere in their care, even if those they served were ungrateful.
A prime example of the types of organizations that St. Antoninus founded was the association known as the Good Men of St. Martin. This group of laymen dispersed funds entrusted to it wherever the need was found. The primary purpose of this association, however, may seem strange to us. The first recipients of its charity were to be the shamefaced poor, a title given in 15th century Florence to those who, because of having fallen from a higher stratum of society, were too ashamed to beg and so starved in silence. Such poor only accepted charity reluctantly, and scant gratitude could be expected from them for it. Saint Antoninus’ charity, however, was too broad to be limited to only those who came seeking it.
Saint Antoninus chose to trade in, by means of charity toward the grateful and ungrateful alike, the riches he had on earth to receive a reward in heaven. In imitation of him, may we also show ourselves to be children of God through unselfish mercy and kindness to all of our neighbors.
Image: Lorenzo Lotto, The Charity of St. Anthony