Recently I attended a forum of Christians from different ecclesial communities to discuss the role of faith in the workplace. A colleague and I were the only Catholics in attendance, which intrigued some of our fellow-attendees who were from Anglican and Lutheran backgrounds. They were surprised to see Catholics interested in matters of faith and evangelisation. One even asked if our work was administrative. "No,” I replied, “we talk to people about Jesus." I could see the cognitive dissonance on his face. Maybe we had more in common than he previously thought?
Discussion eventually came around to the richness of Catholic social teaching and the long-tradition of Catholics meeting the needs of the community, such as running social services and building schools, hospitals and universities. St. Vincent de Paul and St Mother Teresa of Calcutta are household names. There was acknowledgement and even admiration that the "good works" of Catholics is the undeniable strength of our tradition.
When someone gives me a pat on the back like that, it’s easy to feel a sense of pride, but how much have I personally contributed to this positive aspect of Catholic history and spirituality?
When I compare myself to some of my friends, those who have a deep sense of calling and mission in their chosen forms of employment, such as nursing, teaching, or social work, I admire their enlarged hearts for the people they serve. I’m sometimes startled by their selflessness. In those moments I become very aware of my own self-obsessions and self-interest – by comparison I imagine my heart is small and shrivelled-up like in “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.”
In Pope Benedict XVI’s first encyclical “On Christian Love” he wrote that “The Church's deepest nature is expressed in her three-fold responsibility: of proclaiming the word of God, celebrating the sacraments, and exercising the ministry of charity. These duties presuppose each other and are inseparable. For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but is a part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being.”
Serving the poor is a shared and critical component of the three-fold responsibility of Christians. Among other things, I need to serve the poor.
Bishop Robert Barron has made the observation that when we look at the primary theme of each of the three recent popes, we can see that they each emphasised one aspect of this three-fold work of the Church: under Pope St. John Paul II, he emphasised proclaiming the word of God, travelling to multiple countries calling people to faith in Christ. Under Pope Benedict XVI, he emphasised God’s transcendence and experiencing the divine through a rich life of worship, and under Pope Francis, he repeatedly implores us to care for the poor. Each Pope has brought one aspect of this work to the fore, but all three responsibilities are foundational.
In a recent Sunday gospel reading (Luke 16:19-31), there is the confronting parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This story has always bothered me. A poor man is lying at the door of the anonymous and soon to be forgotten rich man. They both die and Lazarus goes to the arms of Abraham in heaven and the rich man goes to punishment.
What’s confronting about this story is what dictates where you go – it comes down to your attitude and action or non-action toward the poor. In this story, getting into heaven isn’t based on whether you have faith in Jesus, but did you feed the poor? Of all the sins that one can possibly commit, this one is pointed out in particular: ignoring the poor who are among us.
The story ends with the rich man begging that Lazarus be sent to warn his brothers. Abraham responds if they won't listen to Moses and the Prophets, they won't listen to someone who rises from the dead.
Jesus echoed these sentiments in his famous words to those who are not getting into heaven in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.”
It's too easy for me to presume this work will be taken care of by the professionals, but it's not too late for you and me to do something about it.
Mental Health Help
A significant number of homeless people experience a mental health issue.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics , the extent of mental illness in Australia is reflected in annual suicide rates, which show that 3,128 people died from intentional self-harm in 2017 – an increase of 9.1 percent from the previous year.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has released a new resource to provide information about mental illness, in order to promote understanding and lessen stigma. Parishes across Australia are encouraged to show people with mental illness that they are welcomed and valued as members of the parish community.
The free online resource, which can be also purchased as a booklet, is designed to help those with mental illness know God’s special love for them. It includes suggested prayers, contact information and resources.
To access the guidelines and associated resource materials, including a prayer card and poster, go to: https://www.catholic.org.au/donotbeafraid.
This article is part of Faith Journey, a newsletter from the National Centre for Evangelisation.