When you did this for the least of my people, Jesus said, you did it for me.
The church in its social teachings stresses the preferential option for the poor. In the truest sense, we have the ability in serving the poor to mirror the love of God. Just as we can in no way give back to God the bounty he has shared with us, so we return our gratitude to him by sharing our bounty with those in need, especially those incapable of giving back.
As I travel to parishes of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, I have been impressed by the charitable outreach established by parish councils and committees for social concerns, especially the education which accompanies the work. It is not only important to do charitable work but to understand why we do what we do. Serving and loving Jesus is at the heart of our work. With the holiday season behind us, we return to the work of witnessing to his love.
As Pope Benedict XVI wrote in “Deus Caritas Est” (God is Love), “Love of neighbor, grounded in the love of God, is first and foremost a responsibility for each individual member of the faithful, but it is also a responsibility for the entire ecclesial community at every level from the local community to the particular church and to the church universal in its entirety. As a community, the church must practice love. Love thus needs to be organized if it is to be an ordered service to the community” (page 28, #20).
Last Sunday at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral, I was privileged to bestow a prayerful blessing on James Brennan, the new director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. He was accompanied by his wife, Ruth, and daughter, Caitlin. Family support is so important for anyone in a leadership position. They, along with his sister-in-law and niece, stood next to Jim as a sign of their acceptance of his office.
I asked the Catholic Charities staff and the current and former members of the Catholic Charities board to stand with me as I invoked God’s blessing. I was surprised to see how many in the congregation had devoted their time and efforts to the work of Catholic Charities.
The social needs of our society demand that we have an organization that assists us in responding to the complex questions of social justice. Think of the many areas in which the church is concerned: the life and dignity of the human person, the family, economic justice, the dignity of work and the rights of the worker, solidarity, the care for the environment, etc.
Applying the social principles of the church requires knowledge of the Gospel, the teachings of the church and adherence to ethical issues of justice. We need to perform the various works of charity at the parish level. It is our response to the Gospel mandate. It aids in the formation of the life of a Catholic in the parish community and many parishes, through their charitable actions that make an immediate contribution to those in need. However, Catholic Charities is our archdiocesan charitable organization. It has been serving those in need for more than 90 years. It unites us all by fulfilling what Pope Benedict refers to as the “organized love in order to be of service to the community.” Catholic Charities provides us with a larger perspective of the reality that confronts us. We can’t address all the problems that face us, but we can depend upon Catholic Charities to be our voice for and to take action on behalf of those who seek help.
Love is often depicted by using concentric circles as love includes more and more into its action, so the action of charitable good works reaches far beyond our homes, our parishes, our cities, our state and even our nation. But it begins with the love of God for us. God is love and he who abides in love, abides in God and God in us.