A Reflection for Poverty Awareness Month

Listening is an important ingredient to every healthy relationship. Can you think of an instance in which a relationship in your life either deepened or was challenged due to the ability or inability of one or both parties to listen to the other?  Our relationship with Christ, and with our neighbors, in whom Christ is present, is the same way. The readings for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Jan. 28, 2018) reminded us of the importance of listening. Listening to God’s call for our lives, our communities, and our world is essential. We first listen, and then we are called to respond. What a fitting theme to reflect on during Poverty Awareness Month!

As we heard in this Sunday’s first reading, we might recall that throughout the Old Testament, God speaks through prophets like Moses, calling the people to repent of their unfaithfulness—which is often illustrated by their worship of false idols, immoral living, and failure to care for those who are poor and oppressed. In the first reading, Moses describes the role of a prophet, who is to be God’s “voice” to the people. Moses invites the people to listen to God’s words to them.

Moses’ message from God to the people spans numerous chapters in Deuteronomy. The instructions aim to help the people remain in right relationship with both God and neighbor.  Part of the instructions are about caring for the stranger, orphan and widow (14:29) and forgiving the debts of those who are poor (15:1-11), for example. Moses exhorts the people to listen (18:15). Those who listen to God’s voice, engaging in both right worship (orthodoxy) and right practice or deed (orthopraxy), will flourish.

The refrain of the Psalm likewise exhorts the people to hear God’s voice: “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.”

Listening is also key in the second reading. Paul writes to the community at Corinth in anticipation of Christ’s second coming, which he and the early Christians believed was imminent. Whatever our state in life, this reading calls each of us to create space in our hearts and lives so that, “without distraction,” we can listen to God’s voice.

In this past Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus—the son of God, the one about whom the prophets spoke—speaks words that elicit immediate response.  “He commands even the unclean spirits and they obey him,” the people remark.  If “even the unclean spirits” obey, then those who are “faithful” should be even better at recognizing Christ’s voice!

We can peel back another layer to this story by asking: Who is the man with the unclean spirit, whom Jesus liberates? In Jesus’ time, mental illness, disability, and disease were frequently attributed to demonic possession. (See, for example, Mt. 9:32-34, 12:22-32, and 17:14-21; and Lk. 4:31-41.)  As a result, those who were sick, disabled, or mentally ill were on the peripheries. They were ignored or even intentionally marginalized. But not by Jesus. Jesus approaches the man in today’s Gospel without fear. He sees the person behind the condition. In some other healing stories (e.g. Mt. 9:32-38, Mk. 1:29-45, etc.), Jesus is “moved by pity” or compassion.  He speaks with authority, healing the one who is sick or possessed. Those who watch the miracles rarely seem to understand Jesus’ message. We know his invitation to faith and compassion is not only for the Gospel crowds and Pharisees: it is for us today as well!

We all struggle to listen to Christ’s call. This can be challenging due to our busyness or from our unwillingness to prioritize prayer or to encounter Christ in the “other.” How can we listen, when the world around us seems so much in turmoil?  Instead of viewing prayer as a way to escape from the realities around us, can we think of it as a special time to unite the deepest concerns of our hearts, and of the world, with Christ’s loving presence?

Try this prayer exercise: find a quiet space and read the Gospel reading again (Mark 1:21-28). Imagine that you are a character in the story—perhaps someone in the crowd, perhaps the man with the unclean spirit. Imagine how it would feel to be there. Imagine using your senses: what do you see around you? What do you hear? What do you smell? Imagine seeing or meeting Jesus.  React to what he says and does. Enter into the story.

Then, read the story again. This time, substitute a modern-day person into the story for the person with the unclean spirit—perhaps someone who is often rejected: a homeless person; someone with a mental illness; an undocumented person; an individual with a disability; a refugee. Watch Jesus see and approach this person. See what happens. Let this exercise lead you into prayer for those on the peripheries. Pray about how Christ might be calling you to respond.

In God is Love, Pope Benedict XVI challenged us to allow love of God and love of neighbor to “become one: in the least of our brethren we find Jesus himself, and in Jesus we find God” (no. 15).

The month of January is Poverty Awareness Month. Connecting love of God and love of neighbor in prayer can help us form a strong foundation through which we can open our hearts to see Christ’s face in those who experience poverty—over 40 million people in the United States. At PovertyUSA.org, a website of the Catholic bishops in the United States, you can learn facts about poverty, watch videos, and read stories about how faith communities are responding.

Another part of our response is to allow ourselves to be “moved with compassion” to imitate Jesus’ example of healing. Consider: how can I imitate Jesus and encounter someone on the peripheries? Following the footsteps of Jesus, we are all called to listen to God’s voice, recognize his presence in our neighbors, and respond with acts of charity and justice.

This reflection is excerpted from a liturgical aid for the Fourth Sunday of Ordinary Time (Jan. 28, 2018), by the USCCB Dept. of Justice, Peace and Human Development.

Nine Days of Prayer for a Suffering World

As we witness suffering in the world around us, the Christmas song, “O, Holy Night,” particularly stands out to me:

Long lay the world in sin and error pining,
‘Til He appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices,
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.  

The world is broken. There is suffering. And God Himself comes into that suffering to be with us. This is the true nature of compassion – to suffer with. But awareness of the brokenhearted and God’s great gift of Himself could easily become just another insight that comes and goes. So in the New Year, how do we carry the message of Christmas in our hearts? How do we live its truth in our lives, rather than pack it away with the ornaments?

We are called to love one another as Christ has loved us, to enter compassionately into the suffering of others, and to share Jesus’ love with them. One important way we can do this is through prayer.

A specific invitation to prayer surrounds January 22, when our nation will mark the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the U.S. throughout the nine months of pregnancy. Since that tragic decision, more than 57 million children’s lives have been lost to abortion, and many women and men experience – often in silence – deep and lasting suffering due to their involvement.

The U.S. Catholic bishops are inviting the faithful to participate in 9 Days for Life, a period of prayer, penance and pilgrimage set aside from January 18-26 to observe this anniversary by taking part in local events and by joining Catholics across the country united in prayer. Each day of the novena includes simple prayers and different brief intentions, reflections and actions. Along with prayers for the end to abortion, the novena also includes prayers for other intentions related to human dignity, such as the end to the use of the death penalty, for those nearing the end of their lives, and for all who are on the path of adoption.

Visit http://www.9daysforlife.com to download a free app, to sign up for daily emails or text messages, and to access other helpful resources. Daily intentions will also be posted on social media with the hashtag #9DaysForLife. Follow People of Life at http://www.facebook.com/peopleoflife.

In this New Year, let us remember the brokenhearted and the suffering in our prayers and, remembering Christ’s own love for each of us, reach out to be with others in support and in love. Though we may not see the immediate effects of our prayers and good works, we can trust in God’s power to work through us.

Anne McGuire is Assistant Director of Education and Outreach for the USCCB Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.

Miracles of Charity

“Human closeness at these times gives us strength, there is solidarity.”
– Pope Francis, Aug. 18, 2014

Human closeness gives us strength that leads us to solidarity. I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on these words from Pope Francis since the Weather Channel monitors began to light up with the approach and landfall of Hurricane Harvey in late August, then the arrival of Hurricane Irma, trailed by the passing of Hurricane Jose, followed by the power and destructive force of Hurricane Maria. Wow! At one point I thought: “This is a disaster nightmare!  How do we process it all?  Where do we even begin to sort out what to tackle first?”

More than 20 million people were affected by one month of hurricanes.  Thousands of families lost loved ones, hundreds of thousands lost their homes, and countless individuals lost their income, their jobs, and their livelihoods.  Those who previously lived in poverty were now critically vulnerable, while many who never sought social services before had begun a poverty journey difficult to overcome.

The need was overwhelming, but in the days and weeks following the hurricanes, so too were the miracles I witnessed while supporting agencies in their disaster response, like the clients in Houston who offered and helped to unload the CCUSA Mobile Response Center, filled with much-needed resources, when no other volunteers were available.  These clients set up the distribution site and cared enough to serve each other until everyone received the resources needed. Indeed, in every place that was impacted by the hurricanes, the miracles of charity and generosity were evident.

  • The Diocese of Corpus Christi was “ground zero” for Hurricane Harvey, but the people there didn’t think twice about sharing their resources with the Diocese of Victoria, which had none. They packed up the CCUSA Mobile Response Center vehicle and sent it off to Victoria.  When the truckload of resources arrived, the people were waiting.  A mop, Clorox, food, water, diapers: these basic supplies brought tears to the eyes of those who were left vulnerable.  When the supplies dwindled in less than two hours, neighbors came with more and more goods.  Like the miracle of the loaves and fishes in the Bible, enough supplies arrived to serve hundreds of people during the following hours.
  • Catholic Charities San Antonio organized a convoy of 72 trucks that hauled $4.1 million in relief supplies, which were loaded by 600 volunteers and driven to Catholic Charities of Galveston/Houston. Upon arrival, the contents of the trucks were off-loaded by 300 volunteers.  Staff from Catholic Charities agencies in Albany, Camden, and Gary assisted with every aspect of the disaster services being provided. And in the days that followed, more than 450 CCUSA Annual Gathering attendees from across the country continued to support the disaster work in Houston and Beaumont by operating call centers, canvasing neighborhoods, participating in distribution sites, assisting in food fairs and mucking/gutting homes in the hopes of moving each family one step closer in their recovery process.
  • While activities continued in Texas, Florida began to respond to its own catastrophe following Hurricane Irma. Each of the Florida agencies began to support one another, providing mutual aid assistance and sending disaster supplies to those areas hardest hit.  Catholic Charities staff from Charleston South Carolina packed their bags to provide assistance to Catholic Charities Venice.
  • Hurricane Irma also caused havoc in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands (St. Thomas and St. Croix), and Catholic Charities/Caritas Puerto Rico reached across the sea to provide immediate help to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria brought devastation not seen on the islands since the 1920s.  Yet, despite the challenges that occurred in the previous weeks, both Texas and Florida agencies took immediate actions in support of their suffering Catholic Charities family members in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.

This is only the beginning. Disaster recovery services will be required for years to come. We can wait no longer to embrace fully the call of the earth and the poor as one single cry for justice and solidarity. Pope Francis explicitly reminds us that the “deterioration of the environment and of society affects the most vulnerable people on the planet.” Catholic Charities USA affirms the veracity of this statement, an observable truth that is on display for all to see as both the intensity and the frequency of severe storms ravage our country and bruise and batter its poorest inhabitants. Meaningful investments in community mitigation, improved floodplain management, and increasing access to affordable housing are critical activities that represent tangible opportunities for all persons of goodwill to reduce the risk and exposure of natural disasters and, at the same time, demonstrate our unyielding commitment to justice and a preferential option for the poor.

May these stories inspire us all to heed the call of Pope Francis to offer human closeness that gives strength and leads to solidarity.  Every embrace of comfort, every tear shed with each other, every story of survival shared, every compassionate touch, and every action that provides hope is part of that miracle by which we, as Catholic Charities, have a profound impact as we support one another and provide meaningful and life-changing assistance to the 20 million disaster survivors who are on their road to recovery.

Kim Burgo is Senior Director of Disaster Operations at Catholic Charities USA. Zach Cahalan, Strategic Director of Disaster Operations at Catholic Charities USA, contributed to this story.

Going Deeper
Find inspiration in this story of solidarity between parish communities through aid for reconstruction.

“Rise, Take the Child and His Mother” and Flee to Egypt: A Scriptural Refrain that Echoes with Today’s Migrants

A family was in flight from a brutal regime. Not knowing where to turn for safety in their own land, they packed what they could carry and fled to a nearby welcoming country, where they waited, protected until a change in national leadership finally made it safe to return home.

The story is familiar to Christians. The Gospel of Matthew (2:13-23) tells the story of the Holy Family escaping the brutal rule of Herod the Great. They fled to Egypt, where they were safe from what Matthew describes as Herod’s order to kill all boys younger than age 2, in order to eliminate the Messiah whose birth had been announced to him by the Magi.

But it also is the story of many of the contemporary 65 million people worldwide who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, whether to safer parts of their own countries or to adjacent nations.

The Holy Family’s flight to Egypt, observed on the Feast of the Holy Innocents, just after Christmas, is the second Scriptural story during the season to focus on their status as migrants – the first being Mary and Joseph’s trek to Judea to register for the census just before Jesus was born.

The experiences of Mary and Joseph resonate with today’s immigrants and refugees. Sometimes people leave their homelands with every intention of returning quickly: “as soon as I earn enough to buy my family a house in my country;” “as soon as the soldiers and rebels stop fighting in my city;” or “as soon as the police can get rid of the gang tormenting my children.”

Others flee situations so difficult they assume it’s a one-way journey. Wars, famine, environmental destruction, crime, political and religious oppression or inescapable poverty can all compel someone to permanently leave home.

People in all of these situations are served by the 330 nonprofit immigration organizations that make up the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, known as CLINIC. The members of the network range from one- or two-person operations like the Crosier Community in Phoenix, to large, archdiocesan Catholic Charities agencies with numerous staff attorneys and accredited representatives who assist thousands of immigrants a year.

The last year brought a great deal of uncertainty and anxiety for many immigrants. Among the major unsettling actions and proposals were: the cancelation of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA; the termination of Temporary Protected Status for several countries and impending decisions on cancelation for several more; changed priorities for deportation and other enforcement; increased use of detention for people who had no criminal records; changed criteria for visa approvals; reductions in the number of refugees admitted; and proposals to eliminate a foundational principle of American policy, family-based immigration.

Through it all, the members of the network established by the U.S. bishops in 1988 to serve low-income immigrants have stepped to the fore.

In the Archdioceses of Miami and Boston, that has meant significant efforts to help Haitians whose TPS status will expire in 2019 to figure out their options. Is there a relative living in the U.S. whose legal status would allow them to sponsor their TPS-holding family members?

In dozens of cities, that has meant legal services agencies gathered staff and volunteers on evenings and weekends to help screen thousands of immigrants from around the world, to evaluate whether they might have overlooked a path to legal residency in the United States. In a project to screen 3,000 immigrants in southern states last spring, 15.4 percent of the people whose applications were reviewed were found to have a likely path to legal status. Several people turned out to already be U.S. citizens—derived from having a citizen parent, typically—but were unaware of it.

And throughout the country, reaching out to vulnerable immigrants has been as essential as sharing know-your-rights materials, teaching families what documents they should prepare in case someone is unexpectedly taken into custody for deportation and as simple as providing a card to carry with an immigration attorney’s phone number. Meanwhile, in response to inquiries from parishes and other faith communities about how to help immigrants, we’ve developed resources to guide discernment for shaping a community response.

The year ahead will likely be even more difficult for millions of immigrant families, as policies changed in 2017 are fully implemented. As we begin our 30th year as CLINIC, we will remain vigilant and attentive.

Patricia Zapor is Communications Director at Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC)

 

 

Going Deeper
Visit www.sharethejourney.org to find inspiring stories of hope and to learn about ways to take action in support of refugees and immigrants, such as resources for parishes, and how to send a letter to your legislator. Take action by being part of the Catholic Social Ministry Gathering (CSMG) in Washington, DC, February 3-6.

Five Things You Need to Know about Poverty in America

Connor Bannon, intern for the Catholic Campaign/USCCB

If Pope Francis has taught us anything during these last four years (and I would submit that he has taught us quite a few things), it is that “poverty in the world is a scandal.”  It is a cry “in a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone.”  It is especially a scandal in a nation like the United States, which, despite possessing more than enough money to end material poverty, consistently exhibits one of the highest rates of poverty in the “developed” world.

Recently released to little fanfare, the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2016 report on Income and Poverty in the United States reveals that 40.6 million, or 12.7 percent, of Americans live in poverty.

After spending several days pouring over this report and its close relative, The Supplemental Poverty Measure, I’d like to share five things that you should know about poverty in the United States.

1. Family matters.

Family Matters is not just an iconic television show.  It is also an important fact about poverty in America.  The Census report reveals that 13.1 percent of families with a single male householder and 26.6 percent of families with a single female householder live in poverty, whereas only 5.1 percent of married households live in poverty.

At the same time, nearly one in five children are living in poverty. That’s 13.3 million kids. Although children only make up 23% of the U.S. population, they disproportionally represent 33% of people living in poverty.

 2. Education matters.

Education Matters is not an iconic television show.  Nevertheless, it is an important fact about poverty in America.  This year’s Census data shows that formally educated Americans are much less likely to live in poverty than Americans without formal education.  More precisely, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that, whereas 4.5 percent of people with a Bachelor’s degree or higher lived in poverty, 9.4 percent of people with only some college lived in poverty, 13.3 percent of people with only a high school diploma lived in poverty, and 24.8 percent of people without a high school diploma lived in poverty.

3. Work works, except when it doesn’t.

It has been said many times and in many ways, but the fact remains: the best anti-poverty program is a good job.  The current Census report shows that only 5.8 percent of all workers live in poverty.  That said, it also reveals a dichotomy between full-time, year-round workers (2.2 percent of whom live in poverty) and part-time, year-round workers (14.7 percent of whom live in poverty).  The best anti-poverty program is not just any job.  The best anti-poverty is a good job, which is to say a full time, year-round, job that pays a living wage. Learn more: Demanding a Living Wage

4. The safety net saves.

While it is true that the best anti-poverty program is a good job, it is also true that the social safety net saves many vulnerable men, women, and children from the grips of poverty.  In this regard, the supplemental poverty report reveals that Social Security keeps 26.1 million people, including 1 in 3 seniors, from living in poverty.  Moreover, the reports show that refundable tax credits, food stamps (i.e. SNAP), Supplemental Security Income, and housing subsidies keep a combined 18.2 million people out of poverty.  Learn more: Safeguarding and Strengthening the Social Safety Net

5. Healthcare costs.

The Census Bureau also measures the impact of select household expenses on low-income families and individuals. The Census Bureau found that an astonishing 10.5 million people were made poor because of high healthcare costs and that “medical expenses were the largest contributing cost to increasing the number of individuals in poverty.”  Achieving affordable healthcare, in other words, is not merely a matter of healthcare policy, it is an essential part of any “war on poverty.” Learn More: Making Healthcare Affordable

Learn more! Our interactive map at PovertyUSA.org now has updated statistics for your state to inform your advocacy efforts.  Additionally, the county-level view of our map highlights programs across the country doing this critical work with help from the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

Connor Bannon an intern for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and a student at George Washington University in Washington, DC.

Going Deeper!

During Poverty Awareness Month, join the U.S. Bishops, the Catholic Campaign for Human Development, and the Catholic community in the United States in taking up Pope Francis’ challenge to live in solidarity with the poor!  Join us this January, as we reflect daily on the reality of poverty and respond with charity and justice.  Sign up to receive daily reflections in your inbox during Poverty Awareness Month.

“A Church Which is Poor and For the Poor” – Poverty Awareness Month

Pope Francis holds dove before his weekly audience at the Vatican

Pope Francis holds a dove before his weekly audience in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican May 15. (CNS photo/L’Osservatore Romano via Reuters)

Since Pope Francis was elected Pope in March 2013, he has made evident through both word and deed that poverty is a core theme of his papacy. He implores us to make the circumstances of those who are poor a central concern guiding our action in the world at all times, not just for a day, a month, or for an hour a week.

He began his papacy by expressing “How I would like a Church which is poor and for the poor!” And in the first homily of his papacy, Pope Francis reminded us that it is everyone’s responsibility to “embrace with tender affection the whole of humanity, especially the poorest, the weakest, the least important, those whom Matthew lists in the final judgment on love.” Pope Francis challenges us to take a disposition of ‘encounter’ offering that “you can’t speak of poverty without having the experience with the poor,” and that “the path to Jesus is to find his wounds, to touch his wounds, to caress the wounds of Jesus, and to bind them with tenderness.”

In the United States, 46.7 million people, including 1 in 5 children, experience poverty, and an additional 14.7 million Americans are ‘near poor’, or have incomes between 100% and 125% of the federal poverty level.

Poverty continues to disproportionately impact families of color, and some states and jurisdictions have child poverty rates at 29 and 30%. In their 2015 book,  Edin and Shaefer offer a portrait of deep poverty (income below half the poverty line), in which 20 million Americans, including 7.1 million children, live in conditions and are forced to make choices that undermine their dignity and imperil their health and safety.

Pope Francis speaks about poverty as a ‘scandal, in a world where there is so much wealth,’ and calls us to address “the structural causes of poverty, inequality, the shortage of dignified work and housing, and the denial of their rights as members of society and as workers.” The Catholic Campaign for Human Development is the U.S. Bishops’ initiative to address the structural causes of poverty through community organizing and economic development. Their grants support movements for living wages, affordable housing, and dignified work, as well as economic development initiatives that give attention to the dignity of people and the care of our planet. Cultivating a deeper awareness of poverty and supporting CCHD are two ways we can heed Francis’ call to fight against the ‘globalization of indifference, [and help build] a new civilization of love and solidarity.’

 

Photo by Ed Pfueller

Photo by Ed Pfueller

Linda Plitt Donaldson, MSW, PhD is Associate Professor at the Catholic University of America, National Catholic School of Social Service and serves as a consultant to the bishops’ subcommittee for the Catholic Campaign for Human Development.

 


Learn more about Poverty Awareness Month at the USCCB website, including downloadable resources in English and Spanish.

 

 

 

 

 

New Year: Go Forth in the Power of Epiphany

Susan Stevenot Sullivan, USCCB

Susan Stevenot Sullivan, USCCB

Epiphany! The Magi left their bubble, their comfort zone, to follow a new star. They “went forth,” together, pursuing a beckoning light that promised a new reality, new priorities, a new relationship –  one worthy of a challenging journey and the offering of their greatest treasures.

The New Year begins with the Christmas season and an incrementally increasing amount of daylight in both our hemisphere and our lives. We may stop during this season to consider the gift of God-With-Us, born into our comfortable but sometimes stagnant understanding of our place in the world, into our continuing search for meaning and relationship. Unwrapping this gift of Emmanuel is a risky, but rewarding, process.

What might be some of the beckoning lights promising new realities and relationships that can change the world – and our own lives? How can we seek more clearly the presence of God in those near and far? We start with those around us and go beyond to encounter the impatient people in line at the grocery store, the harried bus driver, the bewildered parent, the exhausted server at the restaurant, the person on the sidewalk hidden under a blanket, the commuter whose wheelchair is stuck on the curb, the family speaking in another language than ours. Stars for such encounters may also be found in the January calendar.

The World Day of Peace message from Pope Francis on January 1 asks us to seek and encounter those who are victims of human trafficking as, “Slaves no more, but brothers and sisters.”

OneFamilyBlogThis week is National Migration Week. Where did your ancestors come from? What did they find in their new country? How can we seek and encounter those on the move today who are part of our “one family under God”?

January 9 is the World Day of Migrants and Refugees. We are a Church without borders, valuing the life, gifts and thriving of every person. How do we seek and encounter those who have left so much behind and who look for a new start and new opportunities to offer their culture and skills?

January 19 is the national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. How do we seek and encounter the lessons and sacrifices of the civil rights movement, and non-violent resistance, in the issues of racism and injustice that continue to fracture our one family under God?

Prolife blog

January 21-22 is the National Prayer Vigil for Life. How do we seek and encounter those who are most vulnerable from the beginning of life until its final stages? How do we understand each life as precious?

January is Poverty Awareness Month. How do we seek and encounter people living in poverty, including the 2.8 million impoverished people who work full-time, year-round?

The star that called the Magi to “Go Forth” was visible to all, but not all responded to the beacon in the gloom of night. May we be Magi, seeking and encountering our vulnerable brothers and sisters, experiencing a new reality and relationships through the gift God-With-Us. Every. Day.

Susan Stevenot Sullivan is director of education & outreach at the USCCB Department of Justice, Peace & Human Development.