AS THE ECONOMIC CRISIS continues and workers in every sector experience increased hardship, it is natural for many of us to express a feeling of helplessness in the face of impersonal financial forces that seem beyond our control.
However, in the midst of what some experts believe is the worst worldwide downturn since the Great Depression, there is something each of us can do to help, even before a stimulus package is passed or Wall Street rebounds. Very simply, we can turn a helping hand to our neighbors in need — the people in our parishes, the families in our neighborhoods, the soup kitchens and clothing drives in our communities. Even if we don’t have extra money to give to charity, nearly all of us can find an additional few minutes a day, or one hour a week, to volunteer.
In doing so, we will be following the words of Pope Benedict XVI, who tells us in his encyclical on charity, Deus Caritas Est: “Love — caritas — will always prove necessary, even in the most just society. There is no ordering of the State so just that it can eliminate the need for a service of love.”
If greed — one of the worst aspects of human nature — helped push us into this crisis, then one of the best aspects of our nature — generosity — will be necessary to pull us out. We are told in the Gospels that we will be judged on how we treat the “least” among us. Certainly, as more workers join the ranks of the unemployed, there are many households that now desperately need our help.
With our Christian faith, and the great tradition of charity demonstrated by the Knights of Columbus since its founding, we can make each day better for one person or one family. It is this model of neighbor helping neighbor that served as the theme of the summit on volunteerism that the Order sponsored in New York City on Feb. 27. Leaders from a wide range of volunteer organizations gathered to address today’s unique problems and to announce the necessity of working with one another and with our local and federal governments to address this dire situation. Yet, the message of this important summit will be only so many words unless it is backed up by action — millions of volunteers, including Knights, who will reach out to someone in need.
Our local councils, connected as they are to their parishes and communities, are known for grassroots projects designed specifically to meet individual needs. Therefore, in answering the call to volunteer, we Knights need only do more of what we already do as individuals and councils: recruit more men and their families to our ranks to help with the growing needs around us.
We must also be more active in seeking out those who need our assistance, which means that local councils should work even more closely with their parishes. Imagine if each Sunday, in the thousands of Catholic churches where the Order is present, parishioners were informed of Knights of Columbus service projects in their area. The opportunities to give of time and talent would be multiplied, those who are struggling would be lifted in spirit, and strong ties of faith and fellowship would be built.
On Wall Street, personal decisions motivated by the desire for unfettered individual advantage will long be remembered as a hallmark of this economic crisis. It is now up to us on Main Street to make personal decisions for the well-being of our neighbors. Let us work to make a spirit of volunteerism the hallmark of our nation’s recovery and truly become a nation of neighbors helping neighbors. If we do so, we will have set the stage for more than an economic recovery; we will have set a new and powerful moral compass for the future of our society.