For Our Hope

For Our Hope September 2, 2012

In my recent discussion thread, there were some pretty dismissive things said about people I dearly love, people who are hurting, people who need our prayers.

I am speaking, of course, of our brothers and sisters in our nation’s ghettos.

I grew up in such a place, and can say from personal experience that these places are beset by violence, and despair is a constant temptation when you are immersed in such a place.

And yet, I also know with St Paul that “where sin abounds, Grace abounds even more.” There is a kinship and instinctive sense of community in the old hood that I’ve not experienced in other places I’ve lived. People look out for one another. And more than that, these places bring forth a saintly response to the ongoing crisis from the people who live there.

A few years ago, I met a woman named Hope in a support group for survivors of violent crime. A year before, she had lost one grandson to murder, and almost exactly a year later, she had lost her remaining grandson in the same manner, and he had bled out on almost the exact same patch of street as his brother.

I held her hand as she wept for her lost children, and pain came off of her in waves. It was as if the skin of her face was floating on an ocean of tears. She had loved those two children with fierce, maternal love, and losing them was like living a nightmare.

But she took up the cross of her grief, and reached out to the kids in the neighborhood, doing the best she could to prevent another mother’s or grandmother’s heart from breaking as hers had. She prayed, she worked, she filled her days with service. She is a saint. She needs your prayers.

But there is not only tragedy and violence in those places. There are also human treasures there. Many, many of them.

I remember an older kid who lived 5 houses down the block from me. He had had polio, and so had those braces on his legs, and eventually ended up in a wheelchair, but his heart was big and loving and more generous to me than I deserved. His immobility made him a keen observer of the goings-on in the neighborhood. I remember sitting on his porch on summer afternoons while he shared his concern for a family across the way who had hit a rough patch, his excitement at the college prospects of the high-school aged boy of the family next to them, and why Mean Mrs. Warner was such a bitter old lady – her late husband had drunk a lot, and she had put up with a lot from him. I don’t think my wheelchair-bound friend ever saw himself as a mentor – he just enjoyed my company, and I his – but I learned an immense amount from him about seeing without judging, and about taking whatever situation God puts you in and making the best of it.

Mr Pender, a retired man who lived next door with his wife, had a real tenderness toward animals. There were stray cats all over the neighborhood, and he would take them in and make sure they found proper homes. His wife had had a stroke, and so he would carry her tenderly out to his car sometimes when they went off to church. Mrs. Pender had a sixth sense about when the streets were getting rough, and would take me in and feed me hot chocolate on rainy winter afternoons, and made a point of telling me that she just knew I was going to grow into a very special young man.

If America is to be truly a Christian nation, we must realize our fundamental kinship with all who share our shores. The ongoing emergency in our Ghettos is our greatest moral scandal. The grinding poverty, the un-consoled victims and relatives whose bodies and minds have been wounded by violence, the economic and political abandonment of the people in these places by those with the means to give them truly substantive help, have made them virtually forgotten people – People Who Don’t Matter. This separation is deeply wounding for people on both sides of the divide.

The only difference between my childhood neighbors and everyone else in this country is miles, money, luck, and the lingering echoes of an unspeakably sad history.

People in our ghettos are our brothers and sisters. They are truly Us. And more than that: I look at Hope, and at the older kid from down the block, and at my dear neighbor Mrs. Pender, and I see the Face of Christ.

We must be reconciled with them as our brothers and sisters. I pray that we will find one another across the desolating separation, and I believe that this is possible. When we do, the streets will resound with the aching joy of reunion, and we will embrace our brothers and sisters with gratitude.

"If I am only now scaring you, I need to bring my A game. :-)"

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  • Your most adversarial interlocutor in that previous discussion could never belong to this, the Catholic organisation that I admire the most in the world, after having run into some of its members last summer in Rome:

    Also, aside from the religious duty to make the “preferential option for the poor,” I’d like to suggest that one benefit of having communion with them is that, in general, they actually have an emotionally richer life than the privileged do; it’s probably true that the emotional richness of one’s life is subtracted from in proportion to every large increment of wealth one acquires. I live among and work for enormously wealthy people in Mumbai; they–not all of their children, merifully!–bore me to tears, and I usually can’t wait to get out of this city and mingle with villagers.

    In the city of Mumbai, however, I’d like to be able to figure out a way to start a Community of Sant’Egidio. This city badly needs one.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO


  • Absolutely–amen!!!

  • Mark VA


    Your post truly came from the heart, and there is much truth in what you wrote. To a certain degree, I too am acquainted with the situation you described so well.

    When the desire for a better tomorrow is placed in a real life setting, the question regarding the persistence of this “ongoing emergency”, as you put it, likewise takes on real life focus.

    For example, for better or for worse (I take no sides on this), Chicago has a very effective Machine to run its political and economic affairs. Yet the violence and the poverty in the City’s South Side persist, and may even be getting worse.

    Thus, what can we, individuals, do, and what should the Machine do, to help change this ongoing emergency to a normal, peaceful, and economically prosperous life for the residents of the South Side?

    For those less familiar with Chicago, two links are provided below:

    • Rage against the machine. But only in the sense of performing those acts of love that will “heap hots coals on the heads” of those empowered by the machine and profiting from it.

  • Mark Gordon

    Bless you, Matt.

  • Brian Martin

    The “Other” are all around us, in the poor and in the rich. Our call is to have the Christ in us recognize the Christ in them, even if they don’t….and even if they are of a group of people we dislike. So for me, I must try to act with love toward those who in what I perceive as ignorance, act in ways that are judgmental and harmful to those who I find it easier to love.

  • Chris Sullivan

    Wonderful post.

    It is outrageous that the such poverty exists in the world’s richest power whose priority seems to be to waste fortunes on it’s military while neglecting the poor.

    God Bless

  • I lived most of my adult life in a very poor, almost entirely black neighborhood near downtown Atlanta, where I worked as a teacher in the nearby community college and where my wife and I raised our two now-grown children. Because our sons attended the local public schools, we grew close to many young people in the neighborhood and came to love many of them. In summers, our house served as a community rec center, and during the school year, I regularly tutored our children’s classmates. Looking back on the experience, I saw many positive values in both my neighbors and their offspring.

    Nonetheless, as my boss at the time used to say, “You may be in the ghetto, but you and your family are not OF the ghetto.” In particular, my children had bright vistas open before them, but their classmates did not. Recently I sat down with one of their former classmates and reviewed what had become of the other youngsters in their classes. The majority had quit school without graduating. Most of the girls became single mothers. The boys generally did jail time; the most promising of them (other than mine) is serving life for killing a cop.

    The young lady who shared this information with me is a member of our Catholic parish. Her story is also different mainly because the moral standards of our common faith steered her away from the most destructive behaviors commonplace in the ghetto then and now: drugs, promiscuity and violence. At times, we Catholics seem apologetic about those moral standards. We should instead be promoting them as the only sure alternative to cultural and social mores that destroy the potential of so many young people, especially those forced to live in the ghettoes of our inner cities.

    • Ron – I am no apologist for the moral standards of some of the folks I grew up with, but I think the problem is far deeper than their lack. These places need comprehensive help. Their economic and social isolation foster and sustain the social problems you describe. They have been all but abandoned; the reconciliation I pray for would go a long way toward bringing real and positive change.

      • Sounds great in theory, but what exactly does it mean in practice? We went through nearly phase of “empowerment” talk at community meetings during the many years I lived in the inner city, but I have yet to see ONE program that actually enabled people to escape poverty as a group. What happened instead was that some few individuals–like the young lady I mentioned–distanced themselves from the more destructive forces in the community and thereby transcended its limitations in later life. The Catholic Church was (and is) a mechanism for such distancing.

        • You’re asking the right questions, Ron. While the answers would probably take up several posts, for now I’ll say that I think listening can be helpful – find a woman like hope and ask her what she needs. Be present for her.

  • Brian Martin

    A poem I ran across:

    Dublin Afternoon, 2001

    Brother Jesus reached
    with old man’s hands
    from the Pearse Street concrete
    I threw him a pound
    and took wide steps around him,
    moving far too fast for his flesh
    to displace my heart of stone.
    by Brother M. Dismas Warner, OCSO

    • Great poem. Thanks for sharing it.

      • Brian Martin

        yeah…i thought so. It speaks volumes, I think, for how we have trivialized the help we give to the poor. We hear ” The second collection today will be for St. Do Good Homeless Shelter” and give money.
        Whe don’t seem to hear the exhortation to be brothers and sisters to each other. That requires being in relationship.

  • Mark VA

    Ron Chandonia:

    I couldn’t agree with you more. We Catholics need to be more vocal about the moral standards that are the “only sure alternative to cultural and social mores that destroy the potential of so many young people”, as you so well put. We also need to do what we can to academically help those who are willing to accept such help. Consider the below link, and a quote from it:

    A quote from the above link reads:

    “At this point Escalante’s math enrichment program had grown to 400+ students. His class sizes had increased to over 50 students in some cases. This was far beyond the 35 student limit set by the teachers’ union, which in turn increased criticism of Escalante’s work.”

    Those who wield power, whether they be political machines or their subsidiaries, such as unions, need to stand with us, not against us. It is dispiriting to know that the great Jaime Escalante had to leave Garfield High, because the union did not stand with him and his students.

  • dominic1955

    Only Christ and the Church are the answer. Without charity (sanctifying grace), all of our efforts are worthless.

    Government handouts and programs are not the answer, at least not in and of themselves. I agree that these problems need comprehensive answers, and the most important part of this comprehensive effort is evangelizing in the true faith.

    • No, Dominic1955, we need “acts” of love AND “faith,” and faith should be defined broadly as “trust” in a loving God and in His ways, not in an institution or a creed, because “faith” in those signifiies idolatry.
      God is not a “Catholic” or a “Jew.”
      What you are, Dominic, is a Protestant who does not accept, as Luther could not, the Letter of St. James, which defines faith without works as a “sounding bell.” You are disqualified to be a member of the Community of Sant’Egidio, and your heretical “Americanism” and your obsession with fallen human nature posing an absolute barrier to communal acts of mercy and charity (in the spirit of pessimistic Augustine, rather than optimistic Aquinas) define you to be a Protestant in theological temper, not a Catholic.
      THIS is Catholicism, not what you constantly preach here.

      • Deep breaths, Digby. Deep breaths.

        • gadria

          I think as usually Digby raises very important points – unfortunatelly the official Catholic Church is closer to dominic1955’s position – and yes in that sense as much as we would like to see this different as liberals it does not help to yell at folks who are reasonable close Representatives in spirit of the official catholic church’s ‘thinking ‘these days. What do we really expect with the Scholar Ratzinger being very much the expert on Augustine.

      • @digby — To at least the same extent that you see Dominic as a “Protestant,” although nominally a Catholic, St. James remained a “Jew,” although nominally a Christian. Luther was quite correct in saying that humanity, in its fallen state, can have hope only in the faith that God’s love will provide salvation to the inherently unworthy. The most a sinner can do is avoid despair and try to love his God and and his neighbor. If he loves, in faith, good acts must follow naturally. But consciously performing “good acts” in order to win “brownie points” with the Almighty is blasphemous and self-serving. “Love, and do what you will.”

      • dominic1955


        Can you read or do you just like to hysterically fly off the handle? Your definition of “faith” is Modernist nonsense along the lines of Harnack. Faith is also an intellectual assent which necessarily includes a body of dogmatic beliefs, a creed if you will. You cannot assert that faith is merely a broad “trust” in God.

        I accept everything in Scripture, especially as defined or re-affirmed at Trent (since it specifically deals with these issues). There is nothing in what I wrote that denies faith and works. Also, show me how I’m an “Americanist”, I need a good laugh today…and lastly, I never said that fallen human nature poses an absolute barrier to communal acts of mercy and charity. In other words, you sound pretty ridiculous putting these non-existant agrandizing absolutes in my mouth. The Church in her various ways can and should, even the State has a role to play as well. I just do not trust Statists and others who see the State as some sort of secular church that is there to dole out the happies and make everyone’s life perfect.

        Ooh…I’m “disqualified” from membership in the Community of Sant’Egidio. Oh darn, woe is me! Well, good thing membership in some odd hippy-dippy ecumaniac group isn’t necessary to being Catholic! Actually, not to discount the good they do but absolutizing that group is just as silly as if I were to say you were disqualified from being in the Confraternity of St. Peter and thus on account of not being “worthy” or whatever of this group you aren’t really Catholic.

  • Ronald King

    Human beings first learn through the observation of authorities. Through observing the actions and then hearing the words of these authorities, humans begin to mirror the behavior, values and morals of those who appear to be most influential. Our church leaders generally do not exhibit the behavior which exhibits the values and morals which we want to project to the rest of the world. In my opinion, our leaders exhibit behavior which projects exclusion rather than inclusion. The observing brain perceives a different style of dress and actions which do not match the morality being verbalized and it creates a cognitive disonance within the observer.
    Our leaders must set the example of humility by ridding themselves of everything which projects exclusiveness and adorn themsevles with the humility of Christ, Who did not have a home to call His own.