Wounded, Yet Amazing Church

+ Gregory John Mansour

In the midst of all that is happening in the world and in the Church today we are faced with two choices: We can be passiveobserversor active participants

            The world we “observe” is, unfortunately, so often the world of politics, of acrimony, of labels, of Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, etc., some of whom attack each other as if nothing else matters. Moreover, the media promotes this world, and seems all too eager to enter in. 

            This is certainly true here in the United States, but it is also true internationally. It all depends on which side one is aligned. This sad reality makes it especially difficult for countries like the Ukraine and Lebanon, for example. Their political process is often paralyzed in tensions between those aligned with Russia, China, Iran, and their allies, or with the United States, the West, Saudi Arabia and their allies. 

            This is true also in places like El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, whose citizens are divided between a more socialist or a more capitalist approach. The same is true in Nigeria, and other African countries torn by Muslim and Christian tensions. Today’s world seems to be a battlefield of different sides.

            But there is another world, not of labels, of acrimony, of taking sides; but rather a more real, and more humane world, where one does not simply observe, or watch by the sidelines, but enters with charity to make a difference. This is the world of humanitarian outreach, especially radiant and amazing in our Catholic Church. 

            Oddly enough Democrats and Republicans, Conservatives and Liberals, as well as those aligned with one side or another, are all actively involved in this world of Catholic humanitarian effort. And in the service of the poor, labels really don’t mean that much after all! 

            However, in our humanitarian outreach we must make a stern warning: this world is not made for the faint of heart, or for the passive observer, but for the noble, the steadfast, the courageous, the open-minded visionary, and the open-hearted missionary. 

            Two years ago, while I was engaged in the Muslim-Catholic Dialogue, the Muslim co-chair rose from his seat as I was introduced and embraced and thanked me. He said Catholic Relief Services (CRS) served his people better than anyone else.  When I was Pastor in Uniontown, PA, the Jewish rabbi was a graduate of Catholic schools in Mumbai. He and I marveled that it was the Catholic Church, in a mostly Hindu country, that assisted him the most. The Catholic Relief Service Country Representative for Egypt is a Sunni Muslim! He works beautifully with the Christian/Muslim staff and the poor. This is the charitable work of the Church!

            The Catholic Church, even with all her glaring wounds, her faults, and especially now with all her sorrow, shame, and infighting, is still the largest, most engaging, efficient, transparent, and trustworthy charitable institution God ever placed on earth!

            There are 165 National Catholic CaritasOrganizations throughout the world, and they all serve the poor, regardless of religious affiliation. In the United States we have not only Catholic Charities USA, but also Catholic Relief Services; the two of them comprise our onenational Caritas

            Thus, the Catholic Church in the United States is unique among the 165 national Caritasorganizations, in that we have aCaritasad intrafor the poor here at home, and a Caritasad extrafor the poor overseas! Now that’s glorious charity! 

            This in itself shows the big-hearted approach of American Catholics. In addition to this amazing effort of CRS and Catholic Charities in the United States, we also have very strong organizations like the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulture, the Knights and Dames of Malta, the Knights of Columbus, Aid to the Church in Need, Catholic Near East Welfare Association, and this list goes on and on.

            The noble work of all these Catholic institutions is made more noble by the fact that we serve Catholics and non-Catholics alike, and in several countries, especially where Catholics are a small minority, our charitable efforts are not only welcomed, but are the primary lead organizations, and very much needed, treasured and appreciated.

            CaritasUkraine serves Catholics and Orthodox alike. CaritasLebanon serves Lebanese Muslims and Christians, as well as Syrian refugees, who are mostly Muslim. I also think of the Catholic Schools and Universities of Lebanon and the Middle East who serve Catholics and non-Catholics alike. We serve our brothers and sisters on the peripheries, not because they are Christian, but because weare Christian.

            This amazing charity, done in the name of Jesus Christ, is done with so much efficiency, accountability and transparency, that the Global Fund, the United Nations, the US Government, as well as other secular foundations, see our Catholic institutions as their most worthy and dependable partners in the work to eradicate Malaria, Ebola, HIV/AIDS, and other scourges.

            Instead of the father of the family having to seek employment at the coffee or sugar plantation, CRS in El Salvador helps him grow cocoa on his own land. This is not because we love chocolate, even though we do, but because this helps marriages and families to flourish. The father of the family plants; his children pick; his wife grinds; and he sells it at market, all assisted by the Catholic Church working with interventional chocolate companies, farmers, water and soil specialists, and grants from the United States government, charitable foundations, and generous donors in every Catholic Church in America.

            In Uganda, to help farmers grow cash crop the Catholic Church helps them grow vanilla on the farm.  This is not because we like vanilla, even though we do, but because it helps a family send their children to school, and to build a brick house rather than the mud and straw home for the family.  

             Catholics have also created, thanks to Pope Francis, the Santa Martha Group and the Holy See Mission to the United Nations, a world-wide effort to address the social evil of human trafficking. What is the secret weapon? Nuns who are tough (as you know what) and visionary who work closely with law enforcement officers to arrest traffickers and free young girls or women from this slavery. 

            On top of all this, we serve others our own way, adhering to Catholic pro-life, pro-marriage, pro-chastity, pro-woman principles, as well as the principles of Catholic social justice, namely:  subsidiarity and respect for each person’s inherent dignity and self-worth. 

            But here is the bad news: the average American watches so much news every day that we swallow an almost toxic dose of a view of the world that is overtly partisan and overly passive. 

            Fear not, however, there is an antidote: investment of love and care, and an active involvement in the Catholic Church, and her massive humanitarian effort. In this way we are no longer partisan observers but, active participants. The Kingdom that Jesus himself established shines through each of us when we sincerely pray, “Thy Kingdom Come”, and then engage ourselves in Christ’s work of charity.  

            Brothers and Sisters, we have a mission, spelled out in Matthew 25, “for I was hungry, and you gave me to eat”. We have a leader, as spelled out in Matthew 16, “You are Peter and upon this rock I will build my Church”. We have the messageoutlined in John 3:16 for “God so loved this world that he gave us his only Begotten Son, that whoever believes in him will inherit eternal life”

            Ourmissionleader, and message, are given to us by the King himself, the same King who will one day judge us, yes on charity!

            Lastly, as found in John 21, in the person and efforts of Saint Peter, we not only have a mission, a leader, and a message; we also have a net,2,000 years old, whichgathered every variety of fish known to man, 153 to be exact of varieties of fish known at that time. Thisnetis the Catholic Church, which despite the pressure did not break then, even with all the varieties of fish, and this net will not break today – even with all the pressures applied to it.

            Perhaps some of the “fish” were Conservatives or Liberals, Republicans or Democrats, aligned with these countries, or those ideologies, but they were all gathered into one Kingdom, and they were gathered by Peter, an unworthy fisherman, yet used by God for a greater good.  

            If you are thinking what should I do this Christmas to make this world a little better.  Please don’t be a passive observer. Rather, belong, reinvest, care for, love and support this wounded, yet amazing, Catholic Church, so that her world of humanitarian love, better labeled symbolically as the Kingdom of God, may continue to flourish and grow in the image of Her Divine Spouse, Jesus Christ.  Merry Christmas!

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