The joy of the Gospel

| Kathy Tomlin | December 17, 2013 | 0 Comments

homelessThe joy of the Gospel is revealed in all kinds of big and small ways during this time of the year. Many of us frequently experience the joy of giving, the joy of receiving and the holiday joy of being surrounded by friends and family.

Pope Francis in his apostolic letter “The Joy of the Gospel” calls us to experience this joy by engaging in two issues that he labels “fundamental at this time in history” because they will “shape the future of humanity.” These issues are the inclusion of the poor in society and peace and social dialogue.

Leaving no one out

Catholic Charities believes that ending poverty and creating opportunity should be our vision for the community in which we work and live. Think of the overwhelming joy that we would experience as a people if we could actually create a world of promise and opportunity where no one is left out.

The season of Christmas would probably look much different if we took ourselves to this task. Right now, the holidays can be hard on people who live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet. But the holidays are only a bit more difficult than the rest of the year. Living in poverty just doesn’t make for a whole lot of joy year round.

Depending on the charity of others — even when joyfully given and received — isn’t the same as really being included in society. Real inclusion would mean that everyone had the opportunity to provide for themselves and their families.

As Pope Francis has written: “We are not simply talking about ensuring nourishment or a ‘dignified sustenance’ for all people but also their ‘general temporal welfare and prosperity.’ This means education, access to health care and, above all, employment, for it is through free, creative, participatory and mutually supportive labor that human beings express and enhance the dignity of their lives.”

‘Artisans of their destiny’

Vanessa found herself living at Catholic Charities’ Dorothy Day Women’s Shelter after four members of her family passed away. These losses, along with health issues left her reeling and without a place to call home.

She is working to move past her losses and focus on gains. She attends physical therapy and hopes to soon be strong enough to return to work as a personal care attendant. She said she wants to get back to helping others, but she’s not sure if that will happen.

“I can accept whatever God has planned for me. Maybe I can still volunteer,” she said. “I want to encourage and help others as they struggle and strive. My dad always said if there is something you don’t like, then change it. I’m working on changing it,” Vanessa said.

When men and women who work full time are sleeping at the Dorothy Day Center because there is insufficient affordable housing, the poor are not truly being included. When families struggle to put food on the table and to provide a home, they often must sacrifice a workforce-level education for their teenagers, knowing their sons and daughters stand to be excluded from a living-wage job.

When those with mental health issues are unable to access community mental health services because they are unavailable or transportation is an obstacle, they can become a danger to themselves and to others. The whole community is poorer when people are denied their basic needs.

We can change this. Reminding us of Pope Paul VI, Pope Francis suggests that we meditate on the joy we would experience if all people were to become artisans of their destiny. To be an artisan one needs encouragement, tools and opportunity.

Perhaps these are the best gifts that could be given this holiday season. Knowing those who are struggling is an important first step in encouraging dreams, recognizing the need for tools and the responsibility of the community to offer opportunity.

Tomlin is vice president for social justice advocacy for Catholic ­Charities of St. Paul and ­Minneapolis.

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Category: Social Concerns