Giving of ourselves to those in need is a crucial part of our Christian mission
Q: Why does the Church put so much emphasis on giving? Is it really that important to my being a Christian?
A: As the days begin to shorten and cool, a pastor considers the upcoming things on the parish calendar and quickly realizes it’s time again for the Diocesan Annual Appeal. For those of us in small parishes and missions out in the hills and valleys of our beautiful Commonwealth, we realize that this is a time for us to both give and receive. We receive so much validation and support from across the diocese in the selfless gifts that help us to keep the doors open. The giving of others also affords us with opportunities to help when we are faced with poverty and need, which happens almost every day.
It can be easy to take many things for granted: The same folks coming for the same needs and requests for help, the same application process and prayer, and finally that blessed letter saying the diocese will help us to keep serving those in our communities. In my own parish and missions, I follow some of the great ones who did so much to open up Kentucky to Catholicism while at the same time tending to the great need with which they were confronted. I always think of Msgr. Ralph Beiting, who founded and did so much to nurture the parish and missions entrusted to my care.
So many examples give me guidance and strength in facing the challenges of helping those who come in need of assistance: Never give a man a handout, but always a hand up. It’s hard to talk about salvation when your belly is growling. We as priests are first deacons, and like those first deacons, we are ordained to help, to see to the widows and orphans, the lost and forgotten. While we are priests who administer the sacraments, we are also deacons who assist the poor.
I taught history for some years, and oftentimes look to the Fathers and the rich historical tradition of the Church. St. Ambrose of Milan taught his clergy and his people about helping the poor and needy, encouraging them to see the poor “as sharers in common with you in the produce of nature.” It was sage then, and it’s even more so now in this age of great divides in our society, especially between the haves and the have nots.
When trying to help others solve their problems and not just put a Bandaid on a gaping flesh wound (which we also sometimes see out here), it’s good to think of St. Vincent de Paul and his admonition to consider the spiritual and corporal needs of the poor. In doing so, we don’t relegate them to charity but lift them up and address their innate human dignity while offering comfort.
I always tell folks, “As Catholics it ain’t ever gonna be black and white — prepare yourself to jump into the gray and work with everything the Lord gives us.” As citizens of heaven, we are in this thing for the long haul, and that gives us every opportunity to help folks feel better, act better and get better as we all charge toward heaven.
I sometimes wish that I had a card in my pocket with a meaningful quote from St. Thomas Aquinas: “For no one can be a good shepherd unless he has become one with Christ and his members through charity.” Many think Pope Francis might be a radical, but his call for the Church to go serve on the peripheries is really nothing new. Even more, it is in the long history and example of Catholic social teaching. Preaching the Gospel and living the Gospel go hand-in-hand with helping the poor!
All this is made possible by the many who donate to the Annual Appeal. It’s what goes on every day in this diocese — preaching the Gospel and helping those in need. We should always think as the Good Samaritan: Somebody in need might not be like me, but I believe that with God’s help, I can make a difference in his or her life.
Father Gary Simpson is pastor of St. Clare in Berea, St. Paul in McKee and Our Lady of Mt. Vernon in Mt. Vernon.