I read something recently that really struck me, though: this pope is good at challenging all of us, not just those of us who think we're okay because we follow Church teachings on the big issues, oppose abortion and gay "marriage," and so on.
When Pope Francis speaks against abortion, for instance, some of us feel good about ourselves: why, we're pro-life! We're on the right side!
But then when he speaks about abolishing the death penalty, or helping young people find work, or addressing the needs of the poor for food and shelter, or welcoming the immigrant--suddenly, some are not so comfortable.
Let's face it: except for the front-line workers who volunteer daily in crisis pregnancy centers or who pray outside abortion clinics on a daily or weekly basis (and I admire them with great gratitude), most of us can oppose abortion without having to do much. We're against it. We may, on occasion, send ten or twenty dollars to a pro-life ministry group. Some of us were, for a while, suckered into thinking that "pro-life activism" meant giving time and money to wealthy politicians, but we were naive about that (alas, some still are). It is easy to be a pro-life Christian in America.
It is less easy to be really concerned for the poor in a way that cuts into our own comfort level. It is less easy to realize that our complaints about the material goods, most of them luxuries, we somehow think we are entitled to but don't have are a contributing factor in the poverty of our neighbors. It is less easy to admit that we sometimes spend more on silly things like Christmas decorations or glitzy accessories (my own personal fault) than we do on relieving real suffering in our communities. It is less easy to acknowledge that we've acquired some of the worst attitudes of materialism, attitudes like, "You should always buy the best (car, cell phone, computer) you can afford," or "It makes sense to spend a bit more to get good quality things that will last."
Pope Francis is asking us to do better than that. And a priest I know is doing a really good job of living up to that challenge:
"He's again talked about the need to serve the poor," said the Rev. Bryan Jerabek, pastor of Holy Rosary Catholic Church. "That's been a great inspiration."
Holy Rosary church was founded in 1889, celebrated its 125th anniversary last year and has been known for decades as a focal point of Catholic outreach to the poor in Birmingham.
On Sept. 20, Bishop Robert J. Baker dedicated the new St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Learning Center at Holy Rosary Church.
"It was a happy coincidence that we had our dedication the week the pope was coming to America," Jerabek said. "I think we answered his call." [...]
Now run by the diocese, the opening of the learning center signals a commitment to continue serving the needy, Jerabek said.
"We recognized there was a need for literacy program to help the students in the area improve their reading," Jerabek said. "We had 3rd and 4th graders who had trouble reading."
The new learning center is in an updated office building. "It's a remodeled building with two rooms and bathroom, where children can do homework and receive tutoring assistance," Jerabek said.
This is a simple and practical way to help poor children. To find out more about the St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Learning Center, you can go here.
I know that Catholics in America are capable of great generosity toward the poor. I also know that all of us--and I am certainly no exception--have a tendency to become complacent. Surely, we think, we're doing enough! But are we? That is a question we can only answer as individuals, and on a daily basis. Perhaps what we did yesterday or last week or last year is impossible today, because the demands of our vocations to our families or our current financial status are not the same as they were then. But on the other hand, perhaps our closets are overflowing with barely-worn clothing and shoes, our kitchens are overcrowded with gadgets and appliances, and instead of being content we are dissatisfied because someone else has a nicer house and better furniture. That is, at its heart, a spiritual problem, but it is one that has practical ramifications when it comes to our commitment to help the poor.
As Pope Francis speaks of the poor, instead of harrumphing and wishing he'd talk more about abortion or gay "marriage," perhaps we ought to be asking ourselves if we're doing all we can (as individuals and given whatever current realities we face) to relieve the sufferings of poverty. It is not enough to see Christ in the unborn if we can ignore him in the bad neighborhoods, in the faces of the homeless, in the child who is struggling to read because his parents can barely read themselves and have no time to help him, and in all the ways in which He is present to us in the little ones of the world.