When I write my weekly article for The Catholic Sun I usually have a topic or theme in mind. Occasionally, however, my mind travels from one thought to another and the article develops in unintended ways. Such was the case this week.
My first thought as I began this week’s article was a consideration of the beautiful weather that we have enjoyed during the past few weeks and its contrast to the heavy rains and swollen Susquehanna River that occurred in early September. The latter, as you know, resulted in destruction and personal hardship to many in Broome County and throughout the Southern Tier. I visited Binghamton, Johnson City and the surrounding area on Sept. 9. I saw firsthand the effects of the flood at Blessed Sacrament Church, the displacement of persons housed at the Events Center at Binghamton University and the damage at Most Holy Rosary in Maine. I visited many evacuees, listening to their stories about their homes, their losses and concerns.
In the midst of disaster come opportunities in abundance. Everywhere I looked I could see neighbor helping neighbor, churches helping neighborhoods and people from across the state and nation reaching out to help a community pull out of a natural disaster that was unexpected and unprecedented.
Tropical storm Lee and the effects felt in Broome County led me to consider the great work of our Diocesan Catholic Charities. As you may know, this is the operating agency of the diocese’s community service and human development program. Assistance during emergencies is one of the vital services which Catholic Charities provides. Catholic Charities operates programs throughout all seven counties of the diocese. There are six primary administrative sub-divisions of the corporation that correspond to the counties, each having a local director and board of directors. Oneida and Madison Counties are combined under the same director and board.
Catholic Charities responded to the needs of the people affected by the flooding in a variety of ways. On the Sunday after the flood, our food pantries in Binghamton and Endicott were serving people in need. Within the week we had organized the opening of five relief centers supported by local parishes in Kirkwood, Binghamton, Johnson City, Vestal and Endicott. Teams of volunteers from our Catholic colleges, Campus Ministry Centers and other Catholic Charities agencies have assisted in the work of clean up.
As I thought about Catholic Charities, I recalled the seven principles of Catholic social teaching:
• The Catholic Church proclaims that human life is sacred and that the dignity of the human person is the foundation of a moral vision for society.
• The person is not only sacred but social. How we organize our society in economics and politics, in law and policy, directly affects human dignity and the capacity of individuals to grow in community.
• The Catholic tradition teaches that human dignity can be protected and a healthy community can be achieved only if human rights are protected and responsibilities are met.
• A basic moral test is how our most vulnerable members are faring. In a society marred by deepening divisions between rich and poor, our tradition recalls the story of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:31-46) and instructs us to put the needs of the poor and vulnerable first.
• The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation.
• We show our respect for the Creator by our stewardship of creation. Care for the earth is not just an Earth Day slogan; it is a requirement of our faith.
• We are one human family whatever our national, racial, ethnic, economic and ideological differences. We are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, wherever they may be. Loving our neighbor has global dimensions in a shrinking world.
These seven principles guide the program and services provided by Catholic Charities. They also should guide our lives and be the foundation for our personal moral decision making. They are, in effect, specific means by which we live the great commandment of love of God and neighbor.
Pope Benedict tells us “Christian charity is first of all the simple response to immediate needs and specific situations: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, caring for and healing the sick, visiting those in prison” (Deus Caritas Est, #31). This leads me to my final thought for this week’s article. The ministry of Christian charity, whether through personnel associated with an organized agency or the ministry of an individual reaching out to those in need, requires a “formation of the heart” that arises from a personal encounter with Christ which awakens their love for their brothers and sisters. This love for neighbor is no longer a commandment imposed from without but a consequence “deriving from faith, a faith which becomes active through love” (cf. Deus Caritas Est, #31).
This past week I read about Caryll Houselander, an English laywoman, whose writings awaken us to the presence of Christ in the world. Commenting on the people around her, she wrote, “Quite suddenly I saw with my mind, but as vividly as a wonderful picture, Christ in them all . . . living in them, dying in them, rejoicing in them, sorrowing in them. . . . on every side, in every passerby, everywhere – Christ” (cf. Give Us This Day, p. 128). May we see the face of Christ in others. Our efforts, our ministry of charity on behalf of others is always more than a humanitarian endeavor. Let it be the recognition of Christ in the other that motivates us.
If you have an intention you would like me to remember in prayer, please forward it to me at 240 E. Onondaga St., Syracuse, NY 13202.