Charity grounds our justice work,
Justice work gives vision to our charity.
The marriage between justice work and charity has always struck me as being a defining characteristic of the Catholic Worker movement. There is something about doing both that enhances the community and the mission. It brings a synergy with such a diverse group of people working together. The result is both balance and vision.
You may be campaigning for housing justice in one room with a homeless man sleeping on the couch in the next room. Another community may be working to bring emergency relief to Somalia or Darfur in the afternoon while spending the morning handing out food to their neighbors at a soup kitchen. There is involvement in the local as well as global community. There is dialogue between the rich and the poor. Poverty has a face, and charity has a direction.
We have seen this dynamic right in our own ministries here in Columbus. We are starting a book study on the School of Americas. We will soon be discussing some big issues of imperialism and military spending and how they are tied to atrocities in Latin America. In our ESL classes, there are people who have direct memory of those same atrocities on a very personal level. Some have lost family members and had to flee their homeland. They now struggling to learn English and survive in a new land.
When you hear that, you might pause. I certainly did. Suddenly, the book study is no longer coffee and polite banter. There is a seriousness and a reality that becomes present. We come out of the clouds and our feet start to feel the ground. We need this. We human beings can get lost in the abstract world of ideas and have difficulty connecting those ideas to real flesh and blood. People rattle off facts and figures about tens of thousands of people dying in wars and disasters, but can we really appreciate the scope of the problem that way? Just meeting one person who has been personally affected can do more than hearing all the statistics in the world.
In a likewise manner, if we don't work for justice we can easily burn ourselves out helping individuals. It would be worth everyone's time to find out if there is something we can do to address why they are suffering in the first place. Random acts of charity can be beautiful, but without focus one has to wonder if it is effort well spent. I wouldn't plant a field by randomly throwing seeds in the air. Why would I practice the Works of Mercy in the same way? And why would I do justice work without knowing what it is like at the street level?