Following, accompanying Christ, remaining with Him requires a "stepping outside," a stepping beyond. Stepping outside of ourselves, of a tired and routine way of living the faith, of the temptation to withdraw into pre-established patterns that end up closing our horizon to the creative action of God.
-- Pope Francis, First General Audience, March 2013
Some people have a deep urge to help the poor and are tirelessly joyful in that work. For me, this urge is definitely present, but I often don't feel like I have the internal resources to back it up. A strong tendency to "feel with" people in their pain can sometimes spur me on, but empathy mixed with introversion also means that close proximity to suffering can wear me out. More often than not, this combo takes me in the wrong direction and makes me reluctant to seek out direct contact with the suffering and needy.
This, of course, is what Pope Francis has been warning us about with all this talk about "stepping outside of ourselves," which is part of the reason I bit the bullet and volunteered at our parish food pantry for the first time this past Saturday. It's the "fake it 'til you make it" principle - do the things you know to be virtuous even if they don't come naturally, and eventually those actions will transform you into the kind of person who naturally does those things. As Screwtape so accurately points out, "All mortals tend to turn into the thing they are pretending to be."
As it turned out, God decided to let me have some training wheels this time around - because I loved it. I felt way more comfortable than I thought I would, and relished the tiny moments of connection as each person came to my station to collect their allotted canned goods. I realized how much I miss having a job that puts me in contact with people from all the different racial and socio-economic strata of our radically compartmentalized city.
At one point during a brief lull, a little girl came scampering up to me and presented me with a dog-eared deck of cards. "Do you want to play cards with me?" she asked, grinning shyly. "I'm sorry, I can't play cards with you right now - I have to work," I said, and then wished I hadn't, because I realized how often she probably hears variations of that. So many low-wage workers, especially single parents, have to take on multiple jobs just to keep their debts at bay. Kids get stuck at neighborhood day-cares of often questionable legitimacy, or are just left to their own devices.
So-called "social justice" issues and so-called "family values" issues are so often falsely placed at loggerheads. Really, they are inextricably linked. The right of the worker to a just wage is, as the Church teaches, a family issue. A just wage is a family-supporting wage. If wages are determined by what's best for a corporation instead of what's best for the the family, the family and society suffer.
These, of course, are deep-seated political and societal problems that can only be addressed over time. In the meanwhile, I'm grateful that my parish offers me the opportunity to "step outside" and serve the poor in direct and concrete ways.