When the Popes in the 18th Century condemned Freemasonry, one of the reasons they did it was what Pope Benedict XVI argues in _Caritas et Veritate_: essentially “charity” (in the sense of helping out those less fortunate) is nothing without “Charity” (Love) and Jesus is Love, so “Charity” without Jesus, is impossible. Indeed, the Popes have taught, it can only be achieved by coercion. Any kind of secular philanthropy must be by coercion. A perfect example of this is the notion of “paying it forward,” a concept which, though popularized by the 2000 movie, finds its modern origins in none other than Benjamin Franklin. Our Lord, of course, teaches to store up treasure in Heaven and to give without counting the cost or hoping for a return. This is a bit different than explicitly telling the person, as Franklin did, “I’m helping you; repay me by helping someone else.” That’s still saying that there’s a debt to be repaid.
For the past couple years, there have been stories about people applying the principle quite literally at establishments, and some franchises even encouraging it. A customer walks into someplace, the one I’ve most heard about is Starbucks, where the overpriced beverages are fairly consistently overpriced, so it really doesn’t make that much of a difference, and pays for “the next person’s order.” Then *that* person is told, “The person before you paid for your order and asked for you to pay it forward.” It’s a massive guilt-tripping that can go on for hours, or even a whole day, till somebody just says “Thank you,” and walks out.
That is far different from someone simply paying more and saying, “Give this to someone who needs it.”
So, today we were out and about, and the kids wanted lunch. We had plans anyway (today was Dairy Queen’s annual customer appreciation day), so I was juggling the numbers in my head, pushing off meals and shopping trips, etc., while we waited in the car line at McDonald’s. Of course, the thing about McDonald’s is there are two lanes, so the car that was along side us was ahead of us. We got to the window, and the cashier–I couldn’t tell if she was surprised or hinting–said “Uh, the person who just left paid for your order.” We said “Wow, that’s very nice! That’s an answer to our prayers!” and we drove up to the next window.
I’m sure the person was being sincerely charitable, and we included him in our prayer intentions. The phrase wasn’t used, but it did get me thinking about that whole notion, and the pride of being unwilling to accept a gift as that without feeling guilt and considering it a debt.