June 23, 2006

Seeking the Face of the Lord

Charity workers must be ‘personally present’
in giving themselves

Today mass communications have made our planet smaller, rapidly narrowing the distance between different peoples and cultures. This ‘togetherness’ at times gives rise to misunderstandings and tensions, yet our ability to know almost instantly about the needs of others challenges us to share their situation and their difficulties. Despite the great advances made in science and technology, each day we see how much suffering there is in the world on account of different kinds of poverty, both material and spiritual. Our times call for a new readiness to assist our neighbors in need.”

The vivid images of incredible poverty experienced in Africa and India are disturbing. Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “Concern for our neighbor transcends the confines of national communities and has increasingly broadened its horizon to the whole world.” The pope acknowledges the humanitarian assistance being offered in solidarity by nations around the globe.

We have experienced dramatic instances of natural disasters that illustrate the point of this part of the pope’s message in his encyclical “God is Love.” The devastation of the tsunami in the Far East was almost instantaneously and visually communicated to the entire world. Immediate global response was gratifying.

In our own country, the catastrophic impact of hurricanes Katrina and Rita on Louisiana, Mississippi and the Gulf Coast region was shocking as we received the televised images in our homes.

These events have provided opportunities for significant forms of cooperation between state and Church agencies.

In the wake of the tsunami tragedy, our Catholic Relief Services worked alongside government agencies to provide substantial assistance, especially to the poor people.

In the wake of the hurricane disasters in the South, Catholic Charities USA, the Catholic Extension Society, our dioceses and other organizations collaborated with state and city governments to provide aid to the people whose lives were devastated.

The Holy Father wrote: “Significantly, our time has also seen the growth and spread of different kinds of volunteer work, which assume responsibility for providing a variety of services. I wish here to offer a special word of gratitude and appreciation to all those who take part in these activities in whatever way.”

In our country, we think of vans of volunteers like carpenters, policemen, craftsman of all types, members of the medical profession and others who headed to the Gulf Coast region to help in time of crisis.

The pope wrote: “For young people, this widespread involvement constitutes a school of life which offers them formation in solidarity and in readiness to offer others not simply material aid but their very selves. The anti-culture of death, which finds expression for example in drug use, is thus countered by an unselfish love which shows itself to be a culture of life by the very willingness to ‘lose itself’ (cf. Lk 17:33) for others.”

As I read these words of the Holy Father, I think of the 110 youths and young adults from our archdiocese who took vans to Mississippi during spring break 2006 to help poor folks desperately trying to recover from Hurricane Katrina. The recovery work was hard stuff—like helping to haul away debris, cleaning muck from affected homes, cleaning toilets—anything that young and strong bodies could take on.

More importantly, their service to those in need was intertwined with opportunities for Mass and prayer. It was a real mission of Christian charity.

I had the privilege of having Mass for the group of tired youths the day after they returned to Indiana. To a person, these youths and young adults were deeply affected by the experience.

The manner in which the corps of our Catholic youths and young adults and their chaperones served in Mississippi also illustrates a significant point that the Holy Father mades in his encyclical. He wrote: “It is very important that the Church’s charitable activity maintains all its splendor and does not become just another form of social assistance.” He made the point that human beings need something more than proper care. They need humanity, they need heartfelt concern.

In this regard, the Holy Father said charity workers need a formation of the heart. Like our youths and young adults, charity workers must be “personally present” in giving themselves.

“The Christian’s program—the program of the Good Samaritan, the program of Jesus—is ‘a heart which sees.’ This heart sees where love is needed and acts accordingly.”

Catholic charity is sometimes suspected of proselytism. The pope says this cannot be our purpose, but this does not mean that charitable activity must somehow leave God and Christ aside. Often, the deepest cause of suffering is the seeming absence of God.

He wrote: “A Christian knows when it is time to speak of God and when it is better to say nothing and to let love alone speak.” †


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