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CARITAS CORNER: Seven little acts of charity that can make a big difference

06/16/2017 | Comments

Lists are everywhere in what I have been reading lately.  From “The Best Books of Summer” to “15 Ways to Improve Personal Finances,” there is no shortage of ideas this time of year of ways to spend our time and enhance our lives.  In the spirit of those lists, I thought I would do my own this month around ways to integrate charity into daily routine.  Many of you will find you are already engaged in one or more of these activities.  Not everything is for everyone, but hopefully it will give some ideas, spur some thought, and maybe even conversation.

Prayer:  Pope Francis said in a recent homily, “Prayer is intercession.  It’s not tranquility, it’s charity.”  His point, that prayer allows God to engage with us in all our actions, cannot be overlooked when it comes to serving the most vulnerable among us.  Praying with intention for those who are battling homelessness, for families living in poverty, or for our immigrant communities — just to name a few,  makes a difference.  Prayer is also a profound gift for those who are doing the work, whether it is the staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities or the group of students from your parish who are participating in a service project.

Encounter our Poor and Homeless:  One night, a couple years ago, while working at the Salvation Army’s cold weather shelter, one of the guests said to me, “The Marian House is the only place anyone sees me all day.”  He explained that in his days spent downtown, he was consistently ignored or judged, but when he arrived at the Soup Kitchen, the volunteers and staff always greeted him with a smile. For many, myself included, there is anxiety around an encounter with someone who appears to be struggling.  We worry that we will be asked for money, asked for help we cannot provide, or that our gesture will be rebuked.  Yet more often than not, the brief interaction surprises both parties and there is a shared joy in human connection. I am not advocating walking into homeless camps nor giving money to panhandlers, but simply making a point to say “hello.”  It is the biggest impact you can get from the smallest of gestures and is a a profound way of walking with Christ.

Volunteer:  It takes over 96,000 hours of volunteer service a year to run the programs of Catholic Charities.  Add to that the hours of work at parishes operating food pantries, serving meals or coordinating school supply drives to name a few, and you start to get the picture of the integral role volunteers play in the community of caring for our poor and vulnerable.  Serving meals at the soup kitchen is just one of the many ways in which volunteers work with our guests at Catholic Charities.  To start exploring the opportunities that are out there, visit our website at

Many of the regular soup kitchen weekend groups have significantly lower numbers in the summer due to vacations, so there are many Saturdays and Sundays that need volunteers. If you still have questions feel free to contact the Volunteer Office Help Desk at 719-866-6559 or

Consider or Reconsider:  These turbulent times for our nation give us the opportunity to examine and discuss some of our closely held beliefs around faith, politics, and community.  In his recent Pentecost homily, Pope Francis spoke about this issue:  “(W)hen we want to separate, when we take sides and form parties, when we adopt rigid and airtight positions, when we become locked into our own ideas and ways of doing things . . . we become avid supporters for one side, rather than brothers and sisters in the one Spirit.  We become Christians of the ‘right’ or the ‘left,’ before being on the side of Jesus . . .  But, as St. Paul says, ‘where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom’ (2 Cor 3:17).”

Two political issues that have enormous implications for our poor and vulnerable are immigration and the proposed federal budget. Immigration reform in the United States is needed for everyone involved, but it is easy to focus too much on policy and lose sight of the impact on human lives. Mass deportations and raids on immigrant communities have the end result of separating families and creating fear.  There are better options available around this issue than these approaches, which degrade the common good for us all.

The second issue is the President’s proposed budget, which contains spending cuts that will impact all of the agencies working to eliminate the effects of poverty. Through direct funding loss (over $55 million in El Paso County alone) or the reallocation of philanthropy that would be required to fill that gap, this budget will hurt people in poverty. Most concerning is the heavy impact the cuts would have on families and children. If you have not already, take time this summer to become acquainted with one or both of these issues. Some great places to start are at the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Justice for Immigrants site ( or the Colorado Catholic Conference site (  There are no easy answers, but it is better to be challenged and uncomfortable than unaware.

A Short Reading List:  If you are interested in expanding your perspective a little, here are two book recommendations.  “Deus Caritas Est” (God is love) is technically an encyclical letter from Pope Benedict XVI, but it comes in the format of a book. “Deus Caritas Est” is a beautiful and powerful statement on what it means to love our neighbor. While I would not hesitate recommending any number of the encyclicals as foundational for Catholic social teaching, Pope Benedict’s is a great place to start.

“Toxic Charity” by Robert Lupton is an easy read full of challenging ideas.  Chapter titles like, “The Problem with Good Intentions” and “No Quick Fixes” could serve as mantras for modern charitable work. The full content is even more illuminating.

Start or Join a Mentor Team:  Catholic Charities’ Family Mentor Alliance program works to get families into homes with the help of mentor teams based out of congregations from around Colorado Springs.  Families are matched with groups of 5-7 people who help guide parents on practical skills like budgeting and paying rent, promoting financial and residential stability, and ending the turmoil of homelessness.  Families complete the program by paying rent and maintaining stable housing for 12 consecutive months.  We are looking for new parish teams this summer.  Contact Michelle Swanson at 719-866-6555 or for more information. 

Invest:  This column has never been a published fundraising letter, yet the truth is that financial contributions are critical to the work of charity.  But I think the word “invest” is more appropriate than “donate” or “give.” Investing implies a return and some research that are both fully appropriate in this context.  Treat the opportunities to give money like an investment — get to know the agency like you would get to know any company, and look for returns (philanthropy yields both a financial and social return on investment).  Ask for more information (outcomes offer great insight), take a tour or meet with the agency leadership or a board member. 

Catholic Charities would be honored to receive your financial support, but there are also other worthy causes, from your parish to organizations like Partners in Housing or Fostering Hope. Any investment in the work of supporting our poor and vulnerable will benefit us all, regardless of the name on the check.   If you would like to know more about investing in Catholic Charities, contact Terri Gray at 719- 866-6427 or  For a tour, contact Corey Almond at 719- 866-6510 or  

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