In light of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey in Texas, people are rising to the challenge of helping their neighbors. They are giving what they can: food, water, money, boats, shelter. It is not the time to hold back.
Opportunities to give happen every day, not just during natural disasters. What are the characteristics of people who give? Here is a list for reflection and for taking a personal inventory. It comes from the book, 5001 Simple Things to Do For Others (and Yourself), from Liguori Publications, 2010. Would you add or change anything?
Character Traits of Givers
Support an appreciation for people
Reinforce their commitment daily
Keep their compassion
Place their concern where it will do the most good
Are always considerate
Understand that consistency wins the game
Find contentment in what they can accomplish
Fortify their courage
Keep creativity flowing
Are known for their dependability
Show they are always diligent
Exercise discernment and discretion
Know that efficiency allows you to accomplish more
Understand that equality keeps the balance
Are always fair
Know that winners are friendly
Realize that generosity with time and resources will make them rich
Are known for their gentleness
Express their gratitude
Are humble before God
Know the worth of their integrity
Indulge in love
Are loyal to their values
Understand we are all meek on the inside
Believe God is merciful—we just try to follow His example
Observe what is truth
Keep their optimism
Are known for their punctuality
Promote their purpose
Are always resourceful
Respect those around them and those who seek their help
Know we are all responsible for humankind
Don’t let their sincerity overrule logic
Are submissive before God
Believe thriftiness will pay off
Know the world is in need of tolerance
Always promote the truth
Understand that we can’t live on virtue alone, but we can’t live without it
Every organization and institution, whether it is civic, business, religious, or charitable, has its own style of operation. It’s not just what they do, but how they do it that sets them apart. This is true of the Joseph House, and our founder Sr. Mary Elizabeth looked to a particular person for inspiration: Charles de Foucauld, who also went by Br. Charles of Jesus.
Given that he was a hermit in the Sahara Desert more than 100 years ago, it’s not surprising that Charles is a mystery to many people. René Bazin, his first biographer, didn’t think Charles was important enough to warrant a book. He had to be convinced otherwise, and fortunately he was. Bazin’s Charles de Foucauld: Hermit and Explorer, published in 1923 in English, kept alive the memory of this fascinating and saintly figure. This passage from the book shows why the life of Charles found a home in the heart and mind of Sr. Mary Elizabeth:
“Charles was one who gave a fraternal welcome to the poorest and most unknown and undeserving of neighbors, who never let it be suspected that he was put out, and was willing to waste his time for talking with God upon unreliable nomads, corrupt slaves, beggars and bores.
“Every minute somebody would come and open the door, and Brother Charles appeared with his beautiful eyes full of serenity, his head bent forward a little, and his hand already held out. . . .
“He wrote : ‘I wish to accustom all the inhabitants, Christians, Muslims, Jews and idolaters, to look upon me as their brother, the universal brother. . . . They begin to call the house the Fraternity (the Khaua, in Arabic), and I am delighted.’
“This beautiful word suits our missionary and might describe him: he was truly the universal brother, not in words, but in deeds; he did not scatter political formulae, or promises which only add to the weight of wretchedness, but he forgot himself for the sake of his nearest neighbors, he spent beyond his means to feed them and to ransom them if ransomed they could be. His way was the silent way.”
Being available to the poor is at the heart of our ministry. Many people have good intentions for helping the poor, but far fewer have the inclination to “waste time” with them.
Charles did everything he could to address the material needs of the poor, but he gave them something else too: the fruit of his time spent in prayer and recollection. People have deep hungers that go beyond an empty stomach. Charles offered them the peace of Christ. The poor could see it in his face, they could know it by his actions and his unhurried sense of time, and in the way he made his home a home for everyone. He preached by example, letting charity be God’s ambassador.
If the Joseph House is to have a corporate culture, we hope it resembles this. We want people in need to receive your generosity with love and respect. Along with our many volunteers, we do our best to make sure our ministry welcomes everyone. Hearts need to be open as much as the front door.
On a typical day, Charles might have received 70 poor people, plus 15 sick, 50 children, and 20 frail and elderly. We can sympathize. One will never be lonely working with the less fortunate.
Valencia, 63, was not in a good mood when she came to the Joseph House Crisis Center. We could understand why. Pain radiated from her hip that was healing from a fracture. Anyone of us in a similar situation would have wanted to be home resting, but an eviction notice from her landlord required Val to get up and look for help. She was angry and distraught and it took a little time to find out what was going on. Val regained her composure and explained that she lives alone and her monthly income of $756 doesn’t always cover her basic expenses. We agreed to send $200 to her landlord, alleviating one of the burdens Val is carrying.
Dominic, in his fifties, recently had two serious surgeries as part of his treatment for liver cancer. His doctor has ordered him not to work for several months. In the meantime, Dominic is trying to get by on a temporary disability payment of $640 monthly. It is not enough for his rent and utilities. A firm job offer for the fall and the promise of better health give him hope. We sent $225 to Dominic’s landlord. The Joseph House depends on Divine Providence, but the poor know what that really means.
Amber, 44, is another cancer patient. She’s been hospitalized and has received several rounds of chemotherapy. She believes the worst is behind her. Amber missed a lot of work during her illness and also a rent payment. This is a new experience for her since she has been a stable renter at her place for well over a decade. Her wages make it nearly impossible for her to catch up. Amber asked us for help; she especially didn’t want her son to undergo the trial of being homeless. We sent $225 to her landlord.
Ingrid and her three children were homeless. A shelter had beds for them and Ingrid found a job in a chicken factory. Unfortunately, they had to leave the shelter before Ingrid received a paycheck. To break the cycle of homelessness, we paid $170 toward the security deposit for an apartment for Ingrid and her family.
Jerrod, 32, works for a landscaper. He and his wife must both work to support their family of four, soon to be five. Jerrod came to the Joseph House shortly before his wife was due to give birth. She had stopped working temporarily, but this interruption for a natural and beautiful part of family life was wreaking havoc on their budget. Jerrod had an eviction notice with him and no means of paying the back rent by himself. Wanting Jerrod and his wife to welcome their new baby in an atmosphere of peaceful security, we mailed a check for $225 to their landlord.
Thank you for supporting the Joseph House. You’re the answer to someone’s prayer! Working together, the little that each of us can do adds up to something great. You can make a donation here.
May God smile upon you and guard you as the apple of His eye.
Your Little Sisters of Jesus and Mary
August 15, the feast of the Assumption of Mary, is also a time to honor the Blessed Mother under her title, Our Lady of the Fields.
From The Rural Life Prayerbook:
“When this great feast of the Mother of God is celebrated, nature is still arrayed in her summer glories, although the harvest has already begun. At this time, the Church blesses the finest grain, fruits, herbs, vegetables, and flowers.”
Lord, you care for the earth, give it water,
you fill it with riches.
Your river in heaven brims over
to provide its grain.
And thus you provide for the earth;
you drench its furrows,
you level it, soften it with showers,
you bless its growth.
You crown the year with your goodness.
Abundance flows in your steps,
in the pastures of the wilderness it flows.
The hills are girded with joy,
the meadows covered with flocks,
the valleys are decked with wheat.
They shout for joy, yes, they sing.
In an online world, there is still a place for personal contact.
Our help at the Joseph House is given person to person, in the flesh. This way we get a grasp of the details that cannot be conveyed in an e-mail, details that help to express the uniqueness of each person and the many sides to his or her circumstances.
Person to person, we see the missing teeth and the shoes held together with duct tape. We see the mismatched clothes that came from the donation bin. We see arthritic hands and swollen ankles and feeble legs that need the assistance of a cane. We see calloused skin rough as sandpaper from years of hard work in the sun. We hear words slurred in a haze of alcohol. We hear broken English and uncouth grammar and slang. We hear wisdom and sobbing, whispering and yelling.
Person to person, we see faces, and the windows of the soul, the eyes: blood-shot eyes, eyes filled with tears, eyes flaring in anger, nervous eyes that flit about, eyes clear and bright, and eyes that refuse to make contact with our own. Up close, we also detect the smell of unwashed skin that comes from living outside in beastly hot weather, the sharp mustiness that clothes pick up from decaying houses, and the acrid odor that comes from looking in garbage cans for food.
Most importantly, person to person, we experience the person, and not just the eviction notice or the overdue electric bill or the other bits of fallout from poverty. We can reach out and touch someone, and not just figuratively. Simple human contact shoulders many a burden.
The greatest poverty is to feel alone, unloved, and unwanted. Face to face, person to person, we give and receive the gift of each other’s presence. We can meet Christ waiting for us to love Him in the poor, waiting for us to wake up from our indifference, waiting for us to overcome our fear and prejudice, waiting for us to open our heart to the person in front of us.
The middle of summer, when everything is lush and full, brings to mind the Book of Genesis and the story of Creation.
At this time of year, the earth, the trees, and even the air seem heavy with life. Every little corner and niche is occupied. Our backyard becomes a miniature Eden, with all manner of vegetation and seed-bearing plants, crawling living creatures and winged birds. A close inspection of a square foot reveals a universe under our feet. Author Annie Dillard writes,
“This, then, is the extravagant landscape of the world, given, given with pizzazz, given in good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over” (Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).
One thing is clear: God doesn’t hold back. His creative power is super-abundant and endless.
What does a deeper reading of Genesis reveal? In the beginning, God created order out of chaos. “The earth was without form or shape, with darkness over the abyss and a mighty wind sweeping over the waters” (Gen 1:2). The mighty wind was the Spirit of God, and God commanded into being a world of harmony and coherence. This is the bedrock of existence.
God created a world that lets life flourish, a world that has so much to offer each person. It’s a gift for everyone. God gave humanity dominion over creation, but that means we have a responsibility to be good stewards — and good neighbors. Everyone has a chance to share in the fruits of the earth when there is concern for the common good and for what each person is due, that is, when there is concern for justice.
Without justice, everything falls back into chaos.
Some people look at the world and ask, “Where’s my share?” But our rights and responsibilities go hand-in-hand in a well-ordered society.
“Justice focuses on how we treat people, how we share benefits and responsibilities, and how we ensure everyone sits at the table. Justice, then, is about community life. Individuals and the community are complementary” (Alison Benders, Just Prayer).
Creating just communities is a mission for all of us. Many people today lack food, housing, medicine, and other necessary goods. The Joseph House works to fill these needs and address the underlying reasons they exist. Thank you for joining us in this mission through your prayers and generous giving. We can’t do it without you.
Sam, 52, is in poor health. Due to kidney failure, he is on a home dialysis machine seven days a week. His wife is also disabled. Their combined monthly income is $1,120. Of that, $750 goes toward the rent. Sam has medication that he needs to take but doesn’t because he can’t afford it. Like a growing number of people, he started a GoFundMe page on the Internet to help with his health care costs; it hasn’t been successful so far.
Sam came to the Joseph House Crisis Center with his many needs. We were able to assist him with $175 for his electric bill, a few days before the cut-off date.
Terri, 29, is a single mother of two. She works full-time as a housekeeper but brings home only $250 weekly. Terri is also going to school and studying to become a corrections officer. She is working very hard to get ahead through education. Terri fell behind in her rent because her tight budget leaves no room for even the smallest unplanned expense. The Joseph House sent $180 to her landlord.
Claudette is 81. She lives alone, enjoys good health, and volunteers at a local school (spending time with children is a secret for staying young). Her monthly Social Security check is $954 and $850 goes toward her housing, a tiny bungalow. Sometimes a family member helps Claudette with her basic expenses. A leftover heating bill was too much, so Claudette turned to the Joseph House. We sent $168 to the gas company.
Kenny, 64, is a disabled Army veteran. A few months ago, he was living in another state and suffered two heart attacks. After he recovered, he decided to return to Maryland to be closer to his brother. Kenny was in an accident on the way home, and the trailer he was towing, filled with his belongings, was demolished. He lost everything.
When Kenny finally arrived in Maryland, he was turned away by his brother. There seems to be a history of religious and political differences between them. With nowhere to go, Kenny started living in his car. He found his way to the Joseph House, and thankfully we had the funds ($225) to get him moved into an apartment.
Athena, 70, and her husband are on a fixed income. Athena’s life is controlled by COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It’s had a debilitating effect on her. She has reached the point where she needs an electric wheelchair in addition to bottled oxygen.
Athena also has massive ulcers in her mouth. She must take medication to treat these, but her monthly medical bills are already high.
Athena came to the Joseph House in desperate need of help. We contacted the pharmacy and agreed to purchase the $152 in prescriptions waiting for Athena. We also paid the $93 she needed to acquire an electric wheelchair. Looking over Athena’s budget, there was little room for economizing. She and her husband receive Food Stamps, but only $16 per month.
The lack of affordable housing and health care in our country is troubling. How much longer can this go on? The poor suffer first and suffer the most.
On the first full day of summer, the air conditioner at the Crisis Center quit working. Maybe it was protesting the coming workload. Fortunately, the repairman got it going again, but this expense underscores the fact that our ministry needs your support year-round, even during vacation season. Your generosity is greatly appreciated.
The mighty wind of God still sweeps across the earth. The Spirit comes to our aid in our weakness to help us become the people we were created to be. May we surrender to His power and be renewed in His strength. May each of us be a real presence of brotherly and sisterly love in the world.
During a retreat he made in 1902, Charles de Foucauld wrote down his resolutions for more closely imitating Jesus. He understood that we are what we do. The desires of the heart can become just fantasy if they are not grounded in the reality of our behavior.
Charles was driven to imitate the humility of Jesus with great zeal. His example inspires our ministry at the Joseph House, but it is just as important for our day-to-day living. Each day, each one of us will find opportunities to love others as Jesus loves them. Through gentle acts of service our love becomes manifest.
The “Fraternity” that Charles refers to in the excerpt below was his name for his hermitage in Beni Abbes, a village in the desert region of western Algeria. He welcomed everyone to his abode as a “universal brother.”
In the “Fraternity” I must always be humble, gentle and ready to serve as were Jesus, Mary and Joseph at the holy house at Nazareth. To serve others, I need gentleness, humility, abjection and charity.
I must wash the linen of the poor (especially on Maundy Thursday) and regularly clean their rooms, doing as much as possible myself. As far as possible, I myself and no one else must do the lowest work of the house, keeping the parts occupied by the native population clean, taking every service on myself, to be like Jesus who lived among his apostles as “one who serves.”
We must be very gentle towards the poor and everyone else, for this too is humility. When I can do so, I must cook for the poor, and carry food and drink to them, not leaving that service to others.
In every sick person I should see, not a human being, but Jesus, and so should show him respect, love, compassion, joy and gratitude at being able to serve him – zeal and gentleness. I should serve the sick as I do the poor, making myself do the lowliest services for them all, as Jesus washed the apostles’ feet.