Dealing with the problems in our country: One person, one step at a time

This is my most recent column in The Catholic Free Press:

stephen's classroomOur son called the other day to share a lovely story about a former student.

Until recently Stephen had been a pre-school teacher in Brooklyn, NY. Although he had neither experience nor background in education, he took the job because he was desperate, having been unemployed for months.

Even as he fumbled in the dark with no idea as to what he was doing, Stephen managed to touch the life of a then 3-year-old boy.

Surprising encounter

Stephen knew well the thankless nature of teaching. So imagine his surprise when the now five-year-old boy recognized him on the street and ran up to him, throwing his arms around him. The family followed up with a phone call and Stephen is planning an outing with them as a result.

Give what little we have

We never know how we will affect other people’s lives. We think we have to be experts; my son’s experience says otherwise. We don’t need to know anything—we just need to be open and vulnerable, willing to give whatever we have.

What can we do?

Tito Slack Paris Riots #2, Flickr Creative Commons
Tito Slack Paris Riots #2, Flickr Creative Commons

We have witnessed the horror in the streets of Baltimore and around the country. A large group of disenfranchised people are protesting the purgatory of their daily lives, ones of poverty and hopelessness.

While the means of “protest” through robbery, arson, assault and defiance are wrong and cannot be tolerated, we as a nation are stilled forced to consider the deeper questions: what went wrong and how to fix it.

The problem is overwhelming in its scope and it’s tempting to just tune out. After all, what can one person do?

What did Jesus do?

Roger Sadler JESUS HEALS THE SICK, Flickr Creative Commons
Roger Sadler JESUS HEALS THE SICK, Flickr Creative Commons

The problems that Jesus faced during his time on earth appeared overwhelming as well.

Streams of sick people dogged his every step, begging for healing. Being God of course, he could have just gathered all the sick together and granted a mass healing with the wave of his hand.

But he chose a different way, the way that we are asked to follow: deal with the problem one person, one step, at a time.

One person, one healing

Jesus sought intimacy with the sick.

  • Consider the paralyzed man, lowered through a roof on a mat, called “son” and forgiven of his sins before being told to pick up his mat and go home.
  • Or the blind man, healed from a mixture of mud and Jesus’ own spittle.
  • And the hemorrhaging woman who touched the Lord’s cloak in secret, called forth from her shame and brought back out into the open.

People who changed the world

Waiting For The Word I am with you always, Flickr Creative Commons
Waiting For The Word I am with you always, Flickr Creative Commons

While Jesus often taught thousands, he also counseled Nicodemus in the middle of night.

He formed his small band of disciples, pouring out his heart to them and washing their feet.

These men, imbued with the Holy Spirit, would go out and change the world following their Master’s example.

Daring to step out

Recall Philip, teaching and then baptizing the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8.

Or Ananias, daring to obey the Lord and lay hands on Saul (aka St. Paul) despite this man’s relentless persecution of the early Christians.

We only need to give what we have

Even in the midst of the staggering problems of poverty and race in our country, the Gospel reminds us that it is possible to become part of the solution.

We don’t have to be experts in education, community organizing or social work. We don’t need power or money. We need no other means but the simple offering of self, in partnership with our Lord.

Power in weakness

Stephen reminds me that in our weakness, we can make a difference. In the midst of chaos we can touch that one person, changing their lives forever.

We need to be open to our Lord’s prompting, committing ourselves to doing the best we can with what little we have.

This is when good happens.

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