by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Recently, I attended a dinner in St. Louis at which one of my classmates, Msgr. Ted Wojcicki, was being honored as the St. Paul Man of the Year at a benefit event for the Daughters of St. Paul — a community of religious Sisters that strive to proclaim the truth of the Gospel and the teachings of our Catholic faith through the written word and media.
The Daughters of St. Paul operate Catholic bookstores and media centers with adoration chapels in many cities. The Daughters of St. Paul were founded less than a hundred years ago in 1915 by Father (Blessed) James Alberione and Teresa Merlo, who became Sister Thecla. In 1932, the Daughters established their first foundation in the United States. Of course, the Sisters, who established what became the American province, were all Italian.
At the dinner, one of the speakers told the true story about Sister Assumpta, who currently has a leadership role in the American province. As a young novice, Sister Assumpta was assigned to the convent and bookstore in Brooklyn, N.Y. One morning her superior, an Italian Sister, asked Sister Assumpta to take charge of the service counter while she opened up the doors to the bookstore. Her superior from the front door shouted back to Sister Assumpta: “Call the police! There is a bomb at the front door!”
Immediately, Sister Assumpta called the appropriate emergency number, informing the operator that there was a bomb at the front door of the Daughters of St. Paul’s bookstore in Brooklyn. An all points bulletin went out to the police and fire department. Within minutes, there was a chorus of sirens of police cars, firetrucks and other emergency vehicles converging on the bookstore. Very quickly, the front entrance of the store was surrounded by police officers and firefighters.
Her superior asked Sister Assumpta: “What is going on? Why are so many police and firemen at the front door?” Sister Assumpta replied: “I called the police as you requested and told them that there was a bomb at our front door.” Her exasperated superior said: “Sister, I said a bum, B-U-M, was at the front door!”
Previously, I wrote columns about two of our archdiocesan pastoral priorities: conversion and cultivating a spirituality of stewardship. Today, I want to reflect on a third of our major goals for the Archdiocese: serving those in need.
An essential component of the church’s mission is making the love of Jesus real and tangible in the world. It is our duty and responsibility as Catholics to bring the love of Jesus that we encounter in the Eucharist into the world and, in particular, to the suffering, the poor and the vulnerable.
Earlier this month, we celebrated the feast of St. Martin of Tours. St. Martin lived in the fourth century. He was the son of pagan parents. He enlisted in the Roman Imperial Guard. Through his encounter with fervent Christians, Martin became attracted to the Christian faith. During his six-year preparation for baptism (catechumenate), he encountered a shivering beggar — a bum — to whom he gave half of his cloak. Later in a dream, Jesus appeared to Martin wearing that cloak. Martin’s experience was precisely what Jesus told his disciples to expect when he taught: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40).
Many Jews and Muslims for religious reasons, as well as agnostics and atheists for humanitarian reasons, provide charity to the poor. However, for the disciple of Jesus Christ, we have a unique incentive that motivates us to serve those in need. Mother Teresa challenged her Sisters and lay collaborators, who shared in her heroic work, to recognize in those whom they served the face of Jesus in what she termed “the distressing disguise of the poor.” Jesus taught his disciples that when they fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, clothed the naked, sheltered the homeless, welcomed the stranger, and visited the sick or imprisoned that they were, in effect, doing this to him and for him.
Every Catholic has a responsibility, in the unique circumstances of our lives, to bring the love and compassion of Jesus to the poor, the sick, and the suffering. Each one of us receives personal opportunities to fulfill this mandate of Jesus. Also as a Catholic community, we are called to pool our resources to do together what none of us can do individually.
Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas helps us bring the love of Jesus to so many in our region. The priests and people of the Archdiocese have a remarkable history of generously supporting Catholic Charities. Each year, the entire Christmas collection from each parish is given to support the work of Catholic Charities. To my knowledge, the annual Snow Ball in January, raising annually more than a million dollars for Catholic Charities, is unparalleled in any other American diocese.
Also, Catholic Charities is one of the largest beneficiaries of our annual Archbishop’s Call to Share (ACTS) campaign. This past year, as a result of high unemployment and other effects of our current economic problems, Catholic Charities experienced more than a 35-percent increase in those seeking assistance. I was so pleased that, because of your generosity to this year’s campaign, we were able recently to allocate an additional $100,000 in ACTS funds in order to provide Catholic Charities the resources to respond effectively to the needs of more individuals and families.
At a recent meeting, Jan Lewis, the president of Catholic Charities, read a moving letter from a man that Catholic Charities assisted some months ago. He had despaired so greatly that he was contemplating suicide. Fortunately, instead, he found his way to Catholic Charities, where he received the assistance and counsel to turn his life around. Today, he is doing much better and eager to help Catholic Charities help others.
Though unemployment is high, still 90 percent of us remain very blessed. During this season of Thanksgiving as most of us ponder our abundant blessings, let us recommit ourselves to bringing the love of Jesus to those who are hurting. For the Christian, there are no bums, but only Jesus in disguise.