by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann
Several of my previous columns have attempted to explain how the virtues of faith and hope can help us cope with the inevitable anxieties fostered by our nation’s current economic problems.
Recently, I received a letter from a reader whose spouse had lost his job several months ago and has been unable to find suitable employment. The part-time job salary of the letter’s author has been for some months now the sole means of support for the family. Without any health insurance, they are just hoping that no one becomes sick. They are striving to live very frugally — keeping their home cool to conserve energy and eating very simply. This couple has one child whom they are attempting to protect from realizing the precariousness of the family’s financial state.
The letter’s author was obviously very distraught. She said that it was difficult to go to church, because she could hardly keep from crying. She signed the letter: “Out of Faith in Northeast Kansas.” My words about hope and faith, rather than comforting and strengthening her, actually exasperated her pain. Unfortunately, I have not been able to contact this family because the letter contained no name, no address, no e-mail and no phone number.
This letter reminded me of the passage in the Letter of James: “If a brother or sister has nothing to wear and has no food for the day, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,’ but you do not give them the necessities of the body, what good is it?” (Jas 2: 15-16). Obviously, it is not enough for the church just to exhort people to have faith and hope. We must attempt to do everything that we can to provide for the needs of those who are suffering.
I know that the staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas are doing everything possible to assist those adversely affected by the economic problems of our nation. I am grateful to the generous benefactors of Catholic Charities who make it possible for our church to make the love of Jesus real and tangible to those who are suffering. The staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities are on the front lines of the battle against poverty as they bravely enter into the suffering of others, seeking to find ways both to attend to their immediate needs and to connect them with the best possible resources for long-term solutions.
I have asked every department in the Archdiocese to attempt to reduce their budgets in order to free up more resources to meet the most pressing needs of individuals and parishes who are struggling at this moment. I am gratified by the response so far to this year’s Call To Share, the annual effort of the people of the Archdiocese to pool our resources to fund the educational, pastoral and charitable ministries of the Archdiocese. The sacrificial generosity of people throughout the Archdiocese, coupled with our staff’s efforts to reduce budgets, will free up additional resources to help those in need.
In last week’s Leaven, Bill Scholl, our consultant for social justice, described the recent efforts to improve the communication and linkage between our parishes and Catholic Charities. Our priests, parish staffs and parish volunteers are also on the front lines of the battle against poverty as many individuals come to our church doors seeking assistance.
Catholic Charities and our parish-based assistance programs are not just to assist Catholics. In fact, the vast majority of people that we serve are not Catholic. We do not respond to another’s human need because they are Catholic, but because we are Catholic.
At the same time, we must give special attention to the needs of those within our own parish communities. No individual or family in our parishes should ever carry any burden alone. We must look for ways to help others while preserving their dignity.
If you have been the victim of recent layoffs and are struggling to make ends meet, I encourage you to let your pastor know of your situation and allow the parish community the opportunity to assist you. I know that all of us would prefer to be the one giving help rather than asking for help. Yet, the Lord may desire to use you to call forth greater generosity from the rest of us.
All of us need to be more attuned to the needs of those around us. In one of my parochial assignments as a priest, there was one or more “phantom givers” in the parish. This person or persons would anonymously send cash to families if someone was out of work. Sometimes, large families received an anonymous donation to help them with the care of their children. It is not necessary to wait for people to ask for help. We need a legion of modern-day year-round St. Nicholases who recognize a need and find a way to respond without any other prompting.
I have been praying daily for “Out of Faith in Northeast Kansas.” I hope that the Lord will inspire someone to notice and respond to their need. I also invite “Out of Faith” or anyone else in a similar situation to write to me. I will do my best to connect you with those within our archdiocesan family who can best help you. Give your faith family the chance to fulfill the mandate of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you.”