Breastplate of Charity

TKnightsThe critical components for our Armor of Virtue are almost assembled. Faith first forged for us a shield. Hope next honed for us a helmet. Now charity – the third and final theological virtue – builds for us a breastplate.

In medieval times, the breastplate served two functions for a knight. The first was bodily protection. The other was the more public function of bearing images that reflected the knight’s social standing, such as the family crest or coat-of-arms. Even before he stepped into battle, a knight’s breastplate conveyed who he was and how he fit into the web of medieval relationships. It was up to the knight to rise or fall in status by his own acts of charity and bravery.

As defined by the Church, charity is much more than giving money to a favored cause, as many might think of it today. It means love of the highest form – to “love God above all things for his own sake” and “our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1822). Thus the breastplate for the man today who pursues knightly virtue is made of good deeds forged in the fire of divine love. A modern man’s breastplate of charity is burnished by practical, everyday works of charity while he also builds solidarity with those in need. As Pope Francis has emphasized, a Christian’s good deeds must be more than social work; we must accompany people on their way in life and, by example, lead them to Christ.

Such a public form of Christian charity may not be a popular way to serve the poor in our secular age. In fact, acting on the motive of Christian compassion requires a bit of courage today, especially if our compassion and charity move from temporal needs into the moral realm. The wrath of the world is waiting for those who stand up for marriage and the family, even when their motive is love for God, neighbor and the common good. This public witness requires the heart of a hero, under the breastplate of charity.

“So faith, hope, love remain, these three,” St. Paul proclaims, “but the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).

Modern knights, it is time to develop fully the virtues that serve as the first steps in our call to greatness. With shields of faith in our hands, helmets of hope on our heads, and breastplates of charity protecting our chests, we serve those in need, and stand strong, with the love of God, for marriage, family and the Catholic faith.

Originally published at Fathers for Good and reprinted with permission.

Married with two children, Jason Godin teaches United States history at Blinn College in Bryan, Texas.