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May 3, 2013

Question:  Is it true that “charity begins at home?

This saying, which is biblical in inspiration, was first formulated as such by the learned Christian author Sir Thomas Browne in 1642, best known for his Religio Medici. The saying indicates that the charitable spirit, which includes love and generosity, should be practised first at home, before they are extended to or solicited from the community. Families cannot be exempt from practising the spiritual virtues that they recommend to others. In a sense, the family is the primary religious community. It is here that spiritual values are first taught. But family members are often taken for granted. In families we see the best and worst of behaviour. Consequently, we can be sure that if spiritual virtues are practised at home, then the faith practice in question will be genuine and a shining example to others. True believers are made at home.   

Although charity is certainly important, family unity and solidarity are perhaps the most important foundational spiritual virtues to be cultivated in the family. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the son of the Prophet-Founder, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), and the appointed interpreter of his teachings, remarked: “ Note ye how easily, where unity existeth in a given family, the affairs of that family are conducted; what progress the members of that family make, how they prosper in the world. Their concerns are in order, they enjoy comfort and tranquillity, they are secure, their position is assured, they come to be envied by all. Such a family but addeth to its stature and its lasting honour, as day succeedeth day.”

In light of its cornerstone teaching of the organic oneness of humanity, as children of one God, Bahá’ís consider the entire human race to be their family, and our earth one home. In that sense, Bahá’ís extend their generosity to all members of humanity, regardless of their race, religion or ethnicity. This was the example set by ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, our perfect exemplar, an example we strive to follow. He said: “Look upon the whole human race as members of one family, all children of God; and, in so doing, you will see no difference between them.”  
-  Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen May 3, 2013
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