One of the questions I’m often asked as the head of Catholic Charities in the Archdiocese of Washington is how we reconcile the fact that even with all we do, we never seem to fully succeed.
Our staff, volunteers and donors accomplish an amazing amount of good every day. We serve over 140,000 people each year with our budget of almost $100 million.
And yet, poverty continues to plague our society. Hunger is still all around us, as approximately 11 percent of our brothers and sisters don’t have enough food at least part of the year. Homelessness remains a problem, with more than 6,000 people in our city having nowhere to stay at any particular time.
Those numbers are staggeringly disappointing to me, as I’m sure they are to you, too. And yes, if we focus on all we are unable to do, there are days when it gets to us.
I would love nothing more than to permanently solve poverty, homelessness, hunger and other social problems, but I know that’s not realistic. Jesus himself said, “The poor you will always have with you.” (Matthew 26:11) The Lord knows that there will always be people who are poor for various reasons – mental health issues, inability to find employment, addiction, lack of education, and so many others.
Jesus also knows that they point us toward the kingdom of God. After all, he made it our job to take care of “the least” of our brothers and sisters when they are hungry, thirsty, ill, in prison, or whatever the need. I prefer to focus on what we can do, and that’s respond in love to all who come our way each and every day.
When I go to bed at night, I ask myself: Have I done something good for someone today? Did I help change someone’s life? Did I fill somebody in despair with a sense of being helped and of hope for a better future? Being able to answer “yes” gives me strength and comfort, and it assures me that I am doing the Lord’s work.
If we all take that approach, think of the good we could do one person at a time, one day at a time. Let me share a couple examples of what I mean.
I wrote about this before, but it’s such a beautiful story that it bears repeating. Back in the spring, we sent about 15 Catholic Charities employees down south to work with immigrants coming across our border in need of basic human care. Catholic Charities USA paid for transportation and lodging while we agreed to pay their regular salaries. It was a wonderful service opportunity for everyone, and we were happy to be part of the effort.
One of our employees was assigned to help new immigrants with paperwork and getting transportation to their destination. I know she helped many people in her regular assignment, but she also took a very personal interest in one particular situation in which a four-year-old girl had gotten separated from her mother and two sisters. The poor mother and her other daughters were in one of the encampments hoping and praying that the other daughter would come back to them, but they went weeks without seeing her.
Our staff member was only there for one week, but through her concern and extra efforts she was able to help find the little girl, who was up in Michigan. Arrangements were made to reunite the family. She was there when the mother and daughter talked on the phone and told me how happy the mother was to know that her daughter was safe and how happy the little girl was to hear her mom’s voice again.
That’s a beautiful example of how one person can make a difference by responding in love to the needs of those around them.
Just recently, a man who owed Pepco $700 came to me because he couldn’t pay the bill, and his electricity was about to be turned off. He would have no hot water, air conditioning, and of course no light in his home. I called Pepco on his behalf, and the representatives were very accommodating. I was able to pay one fourth of the bill at that moment. I knew we still had to figure out the other three fourths, but on that day for that man I was at least able to “keep the lights on” for the next month. Building on what I was able to do, a sister agency in town is trying to take care of the rest of the bill.
The two stories I shared were simple acts of service well within the capabilities of most everyone. They required no special training or expertise, just a willingness to act. I am blessed that my ministry is my job, and my job is my ministry. I may have a title, but through our Baptism we all have the job of taking care of those in need.
We can all do something. We can all make a difference. And when we go to bed at night, may we sleep soundly knowing that we did something good for someone that day and that we can say to Jesus, “Lord, I said ‘yes’ to those you sent my way today.”
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