More Than a Helping Hand
May 22, 2009
Last January, on Martin Luther King Day to be exact, most of our seminarians from St. Paul's and I had the chance to do something very special. We had the precious opportunity to go to the Uptown section of the city of Pittsburgh and cook steaks and all the trimmings and serve a number of guests who came to the Jubilee Soup Kitchen that day. These guests are folks who might otherwise not have a hot meal. Thanks to Sister Liguori Rossner, every day the homeless and the hungry can get a good hot meal at the soup kitchen.
During the course of our visit, a number of the guests told me that they had never had a steak dinner before — NEVER! I couldn’t help but think of Sundays at my parents’ home when I was a youngster. We had steak with all the “trimmings” every Sunday. In the days following my visit to the Jubilee Soup Kitchen, I was embarrassed to think how much I take for granted. So many specialties of life that the poorest of the poor never get to partake.
It has since not escaped me to think that what the seminarians and I did that day, what Sister Liguori and her volunteers do every day, 24/7/365, is share more than a helping hand. The seminarians and I, Sister Liguori and her staff, are able to be the hands and the heart of Jesus himself. We were able to serve not only a steak dinner but, in so doing, we were able to help the guests feel like “a million bucks,” to help them to know in a very real way the undying love of God for them by our sharing more than a helping hand.
Tradition of service
This past week, hundreds of people, nearly 900, gathered for the annual dinner to support Catholic Charities. For 27 years, the bishops of Pittsburgh have hosted this annual dinner for Catholic Charities. It was an honor for me to continue that tradition and to serve as the host. I did so with great appreciation for the great mission of sharing that is the work of Catholic Charities.
Catholic Charities of Pittsburgh traces its beginnings to 1910. That was when my predecessor, Archbishop Regis Canevin, the fifth bishop of Pittsburgh, brought together all church-related private Catholic works under the name “Conference of Catholic Charities.” It included a host of organizations at that time, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, who cared for the indigent and aged, the Roselia Foundling Society, the Home for Working Girls and St. Paul Orphanage.
It was estimated at that time that these collective Catholic agencies were serving about 1,200 families in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. People were referred to Catholic Charities by other charities that could not meet their needs, by caring business people and even by newspaper reporters who would stumble across the destitute in their work.
Today, Catholic Charities serves tens of thousands, supplying everything from health care to counseling, to material assistance in these hard times. In its daily work, Catholic Charities lives out St. Paul’s description of the human expression of God’s love. It is a love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
That is the “Mission to Greatness,” embraced as the theme of Catholic Charities, and the statement that the staff of Catholic Charities chose to represent their commitment to that theme: “Reaching to New Heights to Serve You.” Catholic Charities, under the direction of Susan Rauscher and her very capable staff, share more than a helping hand.
As I wrote in my second pastoral letter at the beginning of Lent, “The Church Sharing!,” sharing is a divine activity, an activity of Jesus himself. “Sharing with each other is more than a vague feeling of compassion for the less fortunate. Sharing is a frame of mind and heart which recognizes that we all need each other. Sharing finds its foundation in doing what Jesus did when he walked the earth and what he continues to do through the church. Sharing finds its moral outreach in a commitment to the common good.” As Pope John Paul II explained, our neighbor is not only a fellow human being with rights to be respected. Our neighbor is the living image of God the Father, “redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and placed under the permanent action of the Holy Spirit” (“Sollicitudo Rei Socialis,” 40).
This is the living, breathing ministry of Catholic Charities. With love, compassion, competence and hope, Catholic Charities is transforming the world in which we live by sharing more than a helping hand.
Give your best
Sharing is an essential obligation of Christian life that you and I must live out every day of the year, just as Susan Rauscher and the staff of Catholic Charities do day in and day out; just like Sister Liguori and the staff of the Jubilee Soup Kitchen do day in and day out. It is not just a social virtue. It is nothing short of continuing the work of Jesus himself. The struggles that we face today in these hard times are cause for worry, but they are also our way to live out the will of Jesus for us. When we give, we cannot ask how much is too much, how often is too often. Nor can we ask if someone has gotten in line too many times.
Shortly before her death from cancer in 1990, Sister Thea Bowman, an African-American sister who had a reputation of portraying the very face of Christ and challenged all whom she met to become more like Christ, was part of a concert for people afflicted with AIDS.
Her words that day brought a challenge to all. Thea Bowman said: “I have come tonight seeking a blessing. I have come tonight seeking a healing. I don’t usually talk about myself, but tonight I want to tell you a little about me. I have cancer. More importantly, I have something in common with my brothers and sisters who have AIDS — weight loss, hair loss, loss of voice, weakness, fatigue, exhaustion.
“I’m here tonight to say, God IS! GOD MADE ME! GOD LOVES ME. I WANT TO LIVE MY BEST; I WANT TO LOVE MY BEST; I WANT TO DO MY BEST; I WANT TO GIVE MY BEST.”
This is what we are called to do in the Church of Pittsburgh: live our best, love our best, do our best and give our best. That is the mission of Catholic Charities. That is the mission of the Jubilee Soup Kitchen. That was the mission the seminarians and I were about on Martin Luther King Day. That is the mission that you and I must be about 24/7/365 — sharing more than a helping hand!