The Archdiocese of Detroit knows how to serve! We have ministries within our archdiocese helping to heal social injustices and bring the Gospel to diverse groups of people. Marker 8.4 of Unleash the Gospel is called Evangelical Charity, a term that reminds us that when the Church does good works we are not trying to do the work of a social service agency but the work of the Gospel!
“Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel.” (1 Cor. 9:16) These words of St. Paul should be on our minds as we undertake any work as a church—even when those works are charitable in nature. What then is the connection between charity and evangelization?
In Unleash the Gospel we are challenged to serve in the spirit of sharing Jesus Christ and not just to address a social need. Archbishop Vigneron writes, “Our service to the poor and marginalized needs to be a clear witness to Jesus our Lord, not mistaken for humanist philanthropy.” We need to infuse our faith with our charitable works so when they are seen and received others feel the spirit of Jesus in our actions. Our faith is not something we can keep bound up in our soul; we need to share it. As our faith grows and becomes a part of our “every day of the week life,” not just our “Sunday life,” others will see why Jesus is something to cling to!
As we share our faith by doing charitable acts, we need to remember that connecting others to Jesus is our most important act. Certainly, Jesus would want us to feed, clothe and shelter the vulnerable—protecting them from natural elements and social ills—but the Jesus we know from the Gospel ministered to both temporal and spiritual hungers. In Unleash the Gospel, the archbishop writes, “We need to ensure that in ministering to the material needs of others we are also responding to their spiritual thirst for God. Every Catholic charitable work must also be an authentic expression of the Catholic faith. We must be unabashed to speak the name of Jesus and to invite every person to the fullness of life in him.”
So how can we connect the two? How can we share the good news of Jesus while helping others?
- Show generous hospitality. If we are able to help at a soup kitchen, food pantry or clothing bank, our example of generous hospitality with a kind word or warm smile can often make someone’s day and make him or her feel noticed. (Many times in the Bible we hear of people by the side of the road calling out to Jesus as he walked by, and all they wanted was to be recognized.)
- Invite the poor to join your community. When we fill a food box for someone, the inclusion of a church bulletin can help connect them with a parish.
- Pray with those you serve. Inviting someone to say a quick prayer before they depart with a winter coat may warm them more than the coat itself. Inviting God into their lives through prayer is best done through the intimacy of prayer between two people.
- Even a simple smile can make all the difference for someone as we share our piece of peace we have found in him. After all, the Gospel is our joy!
During these uncertain times, with the challenges of the COVID-19, political and social unrest, increased disparity between people of all nations and so many people hungry and out of work, it is easy to become overwhelmed and switch fromevangelical charityto merely “helping.” We must remember, as the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church reminds us, “Nothing that concerns the community of men and women—situations and problems regarding Justice, freedom, development, relations between peoples, peace—is foreign to evangelization, and evangelization would be incomplete if it did not take into account the mutual demands continually made by the Gospel and by the concrete, personal and social life of man.” (66)
We are also reminded that “The Church’s social doctrine ‘is itself a valid instrument of evangelization’ and is born of the always new meeting of the Gospel message and social life.” (67) Remember that within the Gospel, Jesus outstretched his hands to save each one of us. Holding his hand in ours we can unite others to him through our charity.