This past week has challenged our souls with the desire to help others
immediately and generously. By ‘others’ I mean Haitians, the citizens of a nation so poor it has been called “the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.” Haitians are eating dried grass and drinking dirty run off water. They are, once again, victims of a cataclysmic earthquake, many of them buried in the concrete detritus of fallen structures often amputating their limbs to free themselves from the traps of death.
And then there is Afghanistan. A nation under the siege of its enemy as we leave to end the longest war in our history. We are angered and hurt to watch our fellow human beings clutching to the sides of American airplanes hoping to flee to freedom.
I have heard something over and over during these days of global angst and tragedy in these two nations and others as well. I have heard the question: What can I do to help? And I have heard the well-intentioned answer: you can pray. I got to thinking and reflecting on this seeming conundrum and have come up with a four-point plan that might help you answer that question.
- Stay Informed. Samuel Boswell once said, “Answers are easy for the unthinking.” There is no glib answer for either of these situations. You and I do not work in the State Department or the Pentagon and have access to information needed to make decisions on how to help. This means we need to digest the information our government provides. Become intelligent consumers of information watching news outlets without agendas, reading cogent arguments in reputable newspapers, books and even online sources. Do not provide answers without factual resourcing.
- Give to Relief Services. You can donate from your resources to the relief that will assuredly be asked for on behalf of these two countries. Maybe you have to cut back on something else to do this. When giving requires a thoughtful decision, it often means more. I’m thinking here of the ‘Widow’s Mite’ which Jesus used as an example of a poor person giving from her want to the temple fund.
- Communicate to Your Congresspersons. Let them know how you feel and ask what they will be doing to provide assistance to these suffering people. If you can physically do something, volunteer in your communication to join a relief group your congressional leader might be organizing.
- Pray. Yes, pray. Go beyond the petition at Mass. Organize a group of parishioners who will meet at a certain time regularly to pray for these countries. As a young novice, I witnessed older people coming to our shrine of Our Lady of Levoca, patroness of the Slovak people when Slovakia was under a cruel communist dictatorship. These prayerful souls would ascend the steep concrete steps to the shrine on their knees pleading for the fall of communism in their homeland. I used to think communism is too strong; these prayers will not change anything. I was dead wrong! Some 40 years later communism fell in Slovakia and in most of Eastern and Central Europe.
As Jesus met his death and the disciples and apostles cowered in fear, they were really wondering what they could do? The Romans were in control. The Scribes and Pharisees were winning. The community of believers felt lost and very much afraid. They felt their inadequacies: no education, no authority, no money, no status or power. They were thinking of what they didn’t have, not what they did have to demonstrate their commitment to his message. So they hid and did nothing.
Still, there were a few who thought of how they could help. Joseph of Arimathea remembered he had an unused grave. “I can give that,” he said. Mary and the other women said, “We can stay with him at the execution site.” Veronica said, “I can wipe his face as he comes by.” John said, “I can stay and hold his mother under the cross.” Mary Magdalene and her friends said, “We can anoint his body in the morning.” Simple acts of love from people who could not do anything else on that tragic day. They had learned well from the Savior.
For this week, I might reflect on what I can do to help the people of Haiti and the people of Afghanistan. I will try to expand my knowledge of these terrible realities and I will research ways of giving and volunteering. Most of all, I will pray to be open to simple acts that can make a difference, spiritually and physically. I will take my efforts to prayer and ask for guidance for myself and help for these suffering people.