November 10, 2017

Our Works of Charity / David Bethuram

Significance of one: You alone can make a difference

David BethuramMany times in the ministry of charity where we help others who face so many challenging issues—food insecurity, poverty or loneliness—we are called upon to encourage individuals we serve to grasp the concept of “one can make a difference.”

Catholic Charities has more than 2,000 volunteers who serve in our agencies; this doesn’t even count the thousands of individuals who volunteer for charitable causes in our parishes. In our overly busy, impersonal world, it is easy to underestimate the “significance of one.” I am sure you have heard the following line in one form or another … you may have even said it yourself:

“With so many people, most of whom seem so much more capable, more gifted, more prosperous, more important than I, who am I to think my part amounts to much?”

That’s what most folks think. They really do! Aren’t they glad that people like Moses, Peter, St. Teresa of Calcutta and others didn’t?

In working with people throughout the years, I had to do some digging to find a way to encourage people. My background as a former Old Testament instructor helped me reflect on the “importance of one.” I hope the next few paragraphs are helpful to you.

People often say, “But it is a different world today. Back then, there was room for an individual to emerge and stand out in a crowd, but now … no way!”

They are wrong! God has always underscored individual involvement and still does. How many did it take to help the victim who got mugged on the road to Jericho? One Good Samaritan. How many were chosen by God to confront Pharaoh and lead the Exodus? One. How many did the Lord use to get the attention of the land of Palestine and prepare the way for the Messiah? One. Never underestimate “the power of one!”

Many centuries ago, a woman almost did. She thought things were too far-gone. And she certainly didn’t think there was anything she could do. It was only a matter of time before all the Jews would be exterminated.

Her name was Esther. She was the Jewish wife of a Persian king, the man who was about to be tricked into making an irrevocable, disastrous decision. All Jews would be exterminated.

But the tide could be turned by … guess how many? You’re right: one. Esther’s adoptive father, realizing that she alone held the key to her husband’s heart, appealed to her conscience. “If you remain silent at this time … you and your father’s house will perish” (Est 4:14).

She listened to his impassioned plea. What got her attention was his final line, “And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?” (Est 4:14)

That did it. She broke long-standing protocol, marched into the king’s throne room, spoke her mind … and rescued the Jews from holocaust. One woman—only one voice—saved an entire nation.

As is true of every person who stands in the gap, she was willing to get personally involved, to the point of great sacrifice. Or, as she said, “If I perish, I perish” (Est 4:16). She didn’t think, “Someone else should be doing this, not me,” nor did she ignore the need because of the risk. This is the stuff people who make a difference are made of.

Before you allow yourself to toss this aside thinking, “Aw, that’s for somebody else—how much difference can I make?”—go back and review the value of one. Then ask yourself, “What should I be doing?”

Yes, you alone can make a difference. The question is, will you?

(David Bethuram is executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities. E-mail him at

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