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A Real, Lasting Hope

 Originally published December 2008

Official Portrait of Barack Obama

After 21 months, the long presidential campaign has come to a conclusion. We’ve had plenty of talk about “change”, “putting country first” and “hope.”

For the millions of dollars and millions of hours spent trying to sway voters to one side or the other, our nation still faces the daunting challenge of a stagnant economy and global unrest. 

Our President-elect campaigned on “Hope.”  His campaign offered the voters in his words, “a hope we can believe in.” I suppose it’s possible to find hope in our government and its leaders.  But does our hope rest solely in what a government or an individual can do for us?  The obvious answer is, “Of course not.”

Pope Benedict XVI declared, “Our hope is in Christ.” In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, the Holy Father declares, “Redemption is offered to us in the sense that we have been given hope, trustworthy hope, by virtue of which we can face our present:  the present, even if it is arduous, can be lived and accepted if it leads towards a goal….” In essence, no matter how tough life can get…whatever is thrown our way, we can have hope with a faith in Christ.

It is fitting, as I write this column, the Advent season is upon us.  Advent is a season of great anticipation: It is a time of hope for the coming of our Savior – our God who became flesh like us.

During the holiday season we are keenly aware of both the joyous and the heartbreaking occasions around us.  This particular holiday season, admittedly, has to be heartbreaking for more individuals and families than perhaps last year.  Never before have we seen at Catholic Charities the number of people – many of them children – walking through the doors of the Marian House Soup Kitchen and our Life Support Center.

So where’s the hope in all of this? Says Pope Benedict:  “Man is worth so much to God that he himself became man in order to suffer with man in an utterly real way – in flesh and blood…. Hence in all human suffering we are joined by one who experiences and carries that suffering with us; hence con-solatio is present in all suffering, the consolation of God’s compassionate love – and so the star of hope rises.”

(Spe Salvi 39) He knows our suffering and is with us.

And many times, we are given opportunity to be a source of hope…to be the face of God to those suffering and on the margins of society.

Blessed Mother Teresa, in speaking of the Disguised Christ declared, “We all long for heaven where God is, but we have it in our power to be in heaven with Him right now – to be happy with Him at this very moment.  But being happy with Him now means loving like He loves, helping like He helps, giving as He gives, serving as He serves, rescuing as He rescues, being with Him twenty-four hours a day – touching Him in his distressing disguise.”

The mission of Catholic Charities is clearly stated to “Provide Help. Create Hope.”  It’s not highly complex, nor will it make it on the face of a campaign yard sign anytime soon.  But it is something you can believe in.

For forty years now, Catholic Charities has served the least among us in the Pikes Peakregion.  Thanks to the generous gifts and prayers of readers like you, we will continue our mission.

With appreciation for your support of Catholic Charities and its ministries, I extend to you and your families my wish for a blessed, hope-filled holiday season.

 

1968, Bobby, and the Other Malcolm

Originally published September 2008

Bobby Kennedy speaks to a Civil Rights crowd, June 1963.

Not to be lost in all of the media attention focused on our upcoming election, some outlets such as the History Channel have been remembering the 40th Anniversary of the eventful and historic year of 1968.

As a former student of political science and history, I was always fascinated at the drawing power ofRobert F. Kennedy. It was said the former Attorney General and US Senator from New York could walk down the middle of a parade in the deep South and would be enthusiastically greeted by African-Americans on one side and ardent white segregationists on the other.

Recently I came across a speech by RFK entitled, “The Adventure of Change.” In it he remarked: “We cannot stand idly by and expect dreams to come true under their own power. The future is not a gift: it is an achievement.”

Last month I was witness to an enormous achievement: The opening of the New Marian House.  The words of Bobby Kennedy rang true to this effort. Were it not for the leadership, work and dedication of so many people the New Marian House might just be a set of plans rolled up and collecting dust on a shelf. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

This achievement could not have come at a more appropriate time. In the last 6 months, the Marian House has seen a 30% increase in its daily average of guests served.  Stationed at the gateway to downtown Colorado Springs, the New Marian House serves as a place of hope and comfort for those on the margins of society. It is only fitting that our new facility also rests near the newly restored Bijou Street Bridge. Bridge has become an important metaphor for Catholic Charities’ Marian House. Our own campaign refers to the facility as a “Bridge to New Beginnings” with the idea that we are lifting people out of poverty and on the road to self-sufficiency. A deeper, far more meaningful “bridge” metaphor was once beautifully explained by the British author and commentator, Malcolm Muggeridge. In describing the link between heaven and earth, between God and man, Muggeridge declared:

I grasped that over it lay, as it were, a cable-bridge, frail, swaying, but passable. And this bridge, this reconciliation between the black despair of lying bound and gagged in the tiny dungeon of ego, and soaring upwards into the white radiance of God’s universal love – this bridge was the Incarnation, whose truth expresses that of the desperate need it meets. Because of our physical hunger we know there is bread; because of our spiritual hunger, we know there is Christ.

It gives me an enormous sense of awe when I see the work being done at the New Marian House. The workers and volunteers – those special hands of God – are serving as a bridge to a new beginning. And hopefully, providing a mere glimpse of heaven. That’s more than a gift: It’s quite an achievement.

 

 

Living Differently

Originally published May 2008

Pope Benedict XVI - Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images

Wake up calls.

Never cared much for them.

Mine came at 5:15 a.m. Back home – two time zones away – my family was fast asleep. My body was still on Mountain Time. I wasn’t just in another time zone; I was out of my comfort zone! In a word, this was “different.”
This particular day, however, was more than different; it was historic. For only the second time in history, a Pope would be visiting the White House….And I would have the good fortune to be in attendance.

Last fall I made my plans to attend Catholic Charities USA’s Annual Spring Meeting for Diocesan Directors which is a special gathering of my peers to explore innovative ways to address the problems facing our respective communities. Because the meeting is always held in our nation’s capitol, it also gives agency directors the opportunity to speak collectively to our legislators on Capitol Hill about one of the greatest moral threats to the Common Good: Poverty.

Shortly after I made my reservations, the Vatican announced the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI would be making his first apostolic visit to the United States. The visit would coincide with our gathering which created an instant buzz among my colleagues.

To be sure, the Pope did not disappoint.

The theme of the Holy Father’s visit to America has been, “Christ our Hope.” It’s become clear to even the casual observer that “Hope” is becoming a centerpiece of Benedict’s pontificate. His most recent encyclical, Spe Salvi, “Hope, Our Salvation,”specifically addresses the topic.

…And “Hope”is exactly what we need.

In our neighborhoods, cities, nation, and even on a global level there are causes for anxiety and despair. Escalating food and fuel prices are adversely affecting middle income families and devastating the working poor. Political conflict, war, and the state of the environment left for our children and grandchildren add to the collective heartburn we might be experiencing today.

Fortunately, as Americans we are blessed with so many freedoms and the capacity to take on these difficult matters. During his address at the White House, Pope Benedict remarked:

“Freedom is not only a gift, but also a summons to personal responsibility. Americans know this from experience….The preservation of freedom calls for the cultivation of virtue, self-discipline, sacrifice for the common good and a sense of responsibility to the less fortunate. It also demands the courage to engage in civic life….In a word, freedom is ever new. It is a challenge held out to each generation, and it must constantly be won over for the cause of good.”

Who is ready to take up that challenge? Fortunately, there are many! At Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs we take up this challenge every day. It’s embodied in our volunteers and employees who are…
…teachers providing English skills to our immigrants through our Family Immigration Services;

…church and civic groups feeding our hungry at the Marian House Soup Kitchen;

…trained couples offering a nurturing environment to newborn children through our Life Connections Program;

…workers in our Community Outreach Program helping our homebound with food and household items;

…volunteers in our Life Support Center sorting children’s clothes and baby food to young, struggling parents;

At Catholic Charities of Colorado Springs, our motto is “Providing Help. Creating Hope.” As an agency, I believe we are measuring up to that challenge. And there’s always room for others to join us!

In his encyclical, Spe Salvi, Pope Benedict declares, “The one who has hope lives differently.”Consider his words.

Consider the possibilities.

And consider living a hope-filled life that shines a light for the least among us so that they too may have hope.

Thank you, Holy Father, for the wake-up call. I guess I don’t mind them so much anymore.

 

 

The Little Match Girl

Originally published December 2007

Public domain illustration by A.J. Bayes (1889) for The Little Match Girl.

 

Across so many cultures, creeds, and communities, the holiday season is a time when tradition plays such an important role in our lives.  Unfortunately the forces of commercialism, consumerism, and materialism can distract or pull us completely away from our traditions.

One particular holiday tradition I personally began years ago has become for me the ideal antidote to the distracting forces I just mentioned: It’s a reading of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl.

For those not familiar with the story, a young girl roamed the streets – presumably of Copenhagen – on New Year’s Eve to sell matches as a way of earning money for her impoverished family.  Andersen paints the following picture:  “So the little girl went on with her little naked feet, which were quite red and blue with the cold.  No one had bought anything of her the whole day, nor had anyone given her a penny.  Shivering with cold and hunger, she crept along; poor little child, she looked a picture of misery.  The snowflakes fell on her long, fair hair, which hung in curls on her shoulders, but she regarded them not.”

The little girl would pass by the houses and see the families and smell the holiday foods.  And yet, “…she had drawn her little feet under her, but she could not keep off the cold; and she dared not go home, for she had sold no matches, and could not take home even a penny…besides, it was almost as cold at home for they only had the roof to cover them.”

The idea came to the young child to light a match to keep herself warm, and as she lights the matches one by one she sees a beautiful scene:  a table abundantly filled with holiday foods, a stunning Christmas tree with brilliant tapers, her loving grandmother.  Each scene fades when the match extinguishes.  Wanting to see her grandmother, she lights the entire bundle and her grandmother appears clear and shining; the young girl asks her grandmother to take her along for everything fades when the matches go out.

 “She took the little girl in her arms, and they both flew upwards in brightness and in joy far above the earth, where there was neither cold nor hunger nor pain, for they were with God,” writes Andersen.

You can guess how the story ends.

Sadly, stories like this aren’t just taken from mid 19th century Denmark.  It happens right here in our own nation of abundance.

Catholic Charities sees it on a daily basis.  Just this past year the Marian House served meals to over 5000 children.  Our Life Support Center helped nearly 4,000 children and their parents with the basics:  formula, food, diapers, blankets.

The holiday tradition at Catholic Charities is our ministry year ‘round:  Provide Help.  Create Hope.

What will our personal holiday tradition(s) be? Let’s ask ourselves if we can be the loving face and the warming hands of God for all the little match girls that enter into our lives. 

 

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