The following is a short excerpt from an address titled, “Catholic Charities: Reaching out to the Periphery,” given by Fr. Tom Rosica, C.S.B., CEO of Salt + Light Television, on May 16, 2013 at the 100th Anniversary Celebration of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Toronto. In addition to celebrating the work of Catholic Charities, Fr. Tom spoke about the importance of “getting our hands dirty” as we reach out to those in need.
Thank you for inviting me to celebrate this momentous occasion with Catholic Charities of Toronto.
Your wonderful network of 27 agencies addresses the physical, social, emotional and economic needs of this community. You provide young people with support from neglect and physical, sexual and emotional abuse. You look after the poor- providing quality day care for children from low-income families. Your clear stance for the dignity and sacredness of human life is manifested in the support and educational services offered to young, pregnant women, young parents and their children. You care for sick, elderly and disabled seniors, including members of the Francophone community.
You give flesh and blood to what Pope Francis has been speaking about for the past two months: “you dare go to the frontiers of society which are not only the geographic frontiers but the frontiers of poverty, of exclusion and of those who are furthest from God.”
Tonight, let us reflect on the meaning of charity, and in particular, Catholic charity. In the minds of many in our world and Church today, “charity” means donations or generous actions to aid the poor, ill, or helpless; a charitable act or work; a charitable fund, foundation, or institution; benevolent feelings especially toward those in need; doing something out of charity; leniency in judging others; forbearance; alms or Christian love; agape.
Let us go deeper and discover the origins of this charity in our Christian tradition. When Jesus stood up in the Nazareth synagogue (Lk 4:16ff) to explain his mission to his neighbors, he proclaimed good news for the poor, release for captives, sight for the blind and liberty for the oppressed. These transforming provisions of the Jubilee became the banner under which he carried out the mission entrusted to him by his Father in heaven. Jesus taught his followers to meet the spiritual and material needs of their neighbors. He told them to feed the hungry, to shelter the homeless, to clothe the naked, to visit the sick and imprisoned, and to bury the dead (Mt 25:31-46). These corporal works of mercy, called diakonia in the early Church form the basis of the social doctrine or teaching of the Church down through the ages.
The life of Jesus of Nazareth is the model of how we are called to live. His teaching has both personal and social implications. The social teachings of the Church, articulated beautifully in Papal encyclicals, shine the light of the Gospel of Christ and the Church’s moral teaching on changing social circumstances, to provide guidance and support to Christians as we seek to live our faith in the world. In this way, the teaching is both very traditional and ever new. Catholic Social doctrine flows from Jesus himself, and is built on the foundation handed on by the Apostles to the Fathers of the Church, and then received and further explored by the great Christian doctors. It is attested by the saints and by those who gave their lives for Jesus Christ in the field of justice and peace.
One particular Gospel passage that speaks eloquently to us tonight on this centenary is the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), one of the most treasured parables of the Bible. It is a provocative story that reminds us that as Christians, we are obliged to spend time with people we don't enjoy, to be kind to our enemies, to strive for reconciliation with estranged family members, and to show our affection for people we don't get along with.
It is a powerful story, for it speaks of the power of love that transcends all creeds and cultures and "creates" a neighbor out of a complete stranger. It is a personal parable, for it describes with profound simplicity the birth of a human relationship that has a personal, physical touch, transcending social and cultural taboos, as one person binds the wounds of another. It is a pastoral story, for it is filled with the mystery of care and concern that is at the heart of what is best in human beings. The story is also eminently practical, for it urges us to cross all barriers of culture and community and to go and do likewise!
At times we can be like the priest and the scribe who, on seeing the wounded man, passed by on the other side. We can be silent spectators afraid to involve ourselves and dirty our hands. We can easily write cheques or send in donations on-line, but remain on the periphery, never getting our hands dirty. Compassion demands that we get out of ourselves as we reach out to others in need. It means that we get our hands and even our reputations dirty. Indifference is worse than hostility. The hostile person at least acknowledges the presence of the other while reacting violently to it; the indifferent person, on the other hand, ignores the other and treats him or her as if they did not exist. That was the kind of indifference and insensitivity shown by the priest and the Levite who passed by on the other side, leaving the wounded and waylaid traveler completely alone.
The Good Samaritan could have easily passed by on the other side. But this outsider from Samaria stopped and knelt down beside the stranger who was hurting, and became his neighbor and brother. This stopping and stooping, this pausing and kneeling down beside the suffering is not done out of curiosity or guilt, but out of love. The Samaritan's compassion brings him to perform a whole series of actions. First he bandaged his wounds, then he took the wounded man to an inn to care for him, and before leaving, he gives the innkeeper the necessary money to take care of him (vv 34-35).
Is this not the work of Catholic Charities? Is your work not imitating the example of the Good Samaritan who is none other than Jesus himself? More than 2,000 years after this story was first told, it continues to move people deeply. It teaches us what authentic charity, compassion, commitment and communion with others are all about. Charity, compassion, commitment and communion are the intimate nature of the Church.
Dear Friends, the mission of Catholic Charities is to create neighbors, brothers and sisters out of complete strangers. We must do this with simple words, loving, patient gestures, tenderness and love as we kneel beside strangers who are hurting. Our stopping and stooping, our pausing and kneeling down beside the suffering is never done out of curiosity, guilt, efficiency or productivity, but out of sheer love.
Happy Anniversary! May the Lord reward you for all you do for his special friends who come to your agencies each day to experience the true meaning of charity, to find healing, wholeness, kindness, tenderness, and to see the face of God.