by Fr. Fred Kammer, SJ
Text of presentation given to Catholic Community Connection in Cleveland, OH on September 16, 2009.
I spoke with this group in another life, and I am happy to be back to see your continuing collaboration in service to the Church and the wider community. From my conversations with Len Calabrese, I know that you continue to search for communalities and for ways to support one another in ministry and to expand your collaborative ways of proceeding. In what I hope will assist your fine efforts, I want to focus on spirituality today for three reasons at least:
In the introduction to my book Salted with Fire: Spirituality for the Faithjustice Journey, I described “spirituality” in these terms:
Spirituality is essentially about seeing God’s presence and activity in the midst of human reality. In a way, we look through or past the apparent object and event and see its inner self, trying to discern the movements of God’s grace and the opposing forces of evil, their interplay, and our own roles in the conflict. . . . It insists on seeing reality in its social or structural manifestations which reveal the three-dimensional depth of all our relationships, including our relationship to God. 
In keeping with this multi-dimensional insistence, today I will treat the spirituality of Catholic Charities under three headings: institutional spirituality, workplace spirituality, and personal spirituality. By implication, I also am talking about all our works as Church: education, health care, parishes, and charities. The first form of spirituality is structured especially into the inner life of the agency as an institution; this is what we might call institutional spirituality. The second reflects efforts of the past twenty years or so to focus more explicitly on spirituality in the workplace among staff and volunteers, usually in group discussion, reflection, and retreats. The third reflects the kind of spiritual characteristics that are often found among those who staff and volunteer in the agencies, what we might call their key spiritual virtues.
FIRST, INSTITUTIONAL SPIRITUALITY
While theologians in recent decades have written of “sinful social structures,” some also have written of graced social structures. These are those institutions and systems that promote life, encourage fidelity, dignify human beings, strengthen communities, and reinforce loving behaviors in the external world.  We might think of the multiple activities of our various ministries as being expressions of its external character as a graced social structure. But all agencies and institutions also have an internal face reflected in their organizational structures, decision-making modes, personnel policies, and by the staff and volunteers themselves.  Whether the internal face is largely graced or not will affect the spirituality of the institution and can affect the relationships among, and spirituality of, all of those who are employed or engaged as volunteers, including board members. It is this internal aspect of the institutions upon which I want to comment now.
When we look at the Code of Ethics of Catholic Charities USA as an example of institutional guidelines that many of us have, there are a significant number of principles, values, and ethical standards that address themselves to the relations between and among the staff, board, and volunteers. To the degree that they reflect the better practices of the diverse network, they give us a sense of their internal framework. Naturally, many provisions are addressed to the standards and care with which clients are to be treated. But many others are set out to determine the inner life and spirit of the agencies and influence the people working or volunteering there. Eight examples follow:
While some or even many similar provisions might be found in the personnel manuals of for-profit corporations or other voluntary organizations, the terms indicated above and the full scope of the Code of Ethics help to shape the inner face and spirituality of the Charities organization—encouraging and embodying relationships as sisters and brothers to one another and as children of a loving and caring God. Similar rules of behavior apply in schools, health care, dioceses, and other organizations in our Church.
The inner spirit also is shaped by salary and benefit programs that reflect the fullness of modern Catholic Social Teaching which would mean, for example, paying a family wage, providing worker’s compensation and unemployment compensation, subsidizing retirement benefits, funding a substantial part of medical and related benefits, and providing family-friendly workplace policies. These become a matter of workplace justice and can be a major challenge to managers when the payers—government, foundations, and others—may be trying to limit their budget outlays for contracted services. From my own experience, I know that many a director has been caught between the justice owed to staff and the funding constraints being imposed by funders. Fair and just pay and benefits honors the sanctity and human dignity of the staff which they in turn are then encouraged to honor in how they treat one another and those they serve.
For thirty years now, authors and social scientists have focused on a critically important negative experience for those in the helping professions that can turn the worker from a caring professional into more of a bureaucratic functionary or simply bring a promising career in human or social services to a halt. That experience has been called “burnout.”  Earlier analyses of this phenomenon focused on the psychological and spiritual characteristics of the person affected and the remedies proposed for the condition. Later writing, however, began to uncover the organizational and environment factors that contributed to or even were primary causes of the problem. Four key organizational causes involve: (1) the absence of shared decision-making in the workplace; (2) conflicting and changing role expectations; (3) role and organizational conflicts; and (4) the absence of staff development opportunities. These problems often are more acute in newer organizations, those that are underfunded, those without experienced middle-managers, or those that are so focused on mission that they neglect the well-being of those working in the agency.  Thus the Code of Ethics and similar documents in the workplace wisely lay out requirements for management, staff, and volunteers which include written job descriptions, evaluation processes that include reciprocal dialogue, opportunities for training and professional growth, and contracts for services that allow for just salaries for staff. 
It seems safe to say, then, that the spirituality of a Catholic Charities agency or any Church ministry as an institution is molded by its external mission in service of the Gospel and the poor and vulnerable and its internal character as an ethical organization whose policies and practices reverence those who are involved as board, staff, teachers, and volunteers. In this coherence of external mission and internal character, the spirituality of individuals is enhanced in significant ways that also are in keeping with the mission and their own sanctity and dignity. Recent decades have taught that nurturing that spirituality also requires explicit attention to spirituality within the workplace.
SECOND, WORKPLACE SPIRITUALITY
When the Catholic Identity Project task force began its work in the mid-nineties in conjunction with the Vision 2000 process of Catholic Charities USA, one of its first activities was to solicit ideas and materials from local agencies. Ninety-five agencies responded; twenty-two of them sent materials used locally in planning and/or orienting staffs, boards, and volunteers regarding mission and identity of the agencies.  Perhaps surprisingly, many agencies were focusing on the spirituality of their workers as part of these efforts. Their experiences with reflection groups, shared prayer, and time for staff spiritual nurturance were created in ways respectful of the religious diversity of staff and volunteers and yet focused on the mission, identity, and spirituality of the work. Some of these materials were included in the 1997 Catholic Charities USA publication, Who Do You Say We Are?—Perspectives on Catholic Identity in Catholic Charities.
Two years later, during Lent of 1999, the national organization piloted a weekly workplace spirituality resource for groups of local staff and volunteers to use in exploring mission and values in their work. Catholic Charities USA followed this effort with a monthly resource in September and October, 1999, and then a weekly resource again during Advent, 1999.  Over the following decade, under the leadership first of Br. Joseph Berg, CSC and then Sister Therese Wetta, ASC, the provision of workplace spirituality materials continued. Today, the national organization provides several sets of workplace spirituality materials for the use of member agency staff and volunteers.
During Lent and Advent for each of the past three years, Catholic Charities USA members have provided daily reflections on the Scripture readings for the liturgy of the day. Members also are supplied with group reflection resources on topics relevant to their mission together, which include readings, questions for reflection and discussion, and individual and group prayers for use during these sessions.
In local agencies the responsibility to encourage such workplace spirituality discussions and prayer, while respecting the religious diversity of staff and volunteers, is shared by directors, managers, and, more recently, by persons holding positions with specific care for the mission and Catholic identity of the agency and/or the spiritual care of the staff and volunteers. … Still others, such as Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, DC, have a Spirituality Committee composed of staff to promote this kind of reflection and prayer and to develop resources for use within the agency and, in Washington, to plan an annual Spirituality in the Workplace Retreat. 
Workplace spirituality efforts reflect a growing awareness among Catholic agencies of the importance of attending to the interior life of staff and volunteers that recognizes that, for many of those involved of many faiths, working at Catholic agency or institution is a crucial expression of deeply held religious values. It also nurtures the ability of staff to sustain the difficulties of this work, to be more supportive of those whom they serve each day, and to become more deeply committed themselves to the mission and values of the agency.
THIRD, SPIRITUALITY AND VIRTUES
In recent years, moral theology has focused in new ways on the role of VIRTUES in the moral life. It asks the self-understanding question, “Who are we?” This question focuses interest not on particular moral acts per se so much as on who the actor is as a person and what kind of person they ought to become. The virtues become a way of assessing who the person is and also setting goals for oneself in terms of acquiring or developing certain key virtues. Parallel developments have occurred in the field of spirituality, turning the focus from ascetical practices to relationships to God and others and attitudes of heart. Spirituality looks at these relationships, how we experience God daily and hourly, and how that experience shapes our living and working each day. It looks at holiness in ordinary life, at discipleship lived “outside” the sanctuary, and at the virtues that shape our ways of acting towards others in light of our relationship with God.
In keeping with these developments, I want to turn to the ways Catholic Charities people act in relationship to God and others. I do this by reflecting their own ways of describing what they do and ought to do in terms of six key virtues that seem to me to be central to their way of proceeding: accompaniment, hospitality, service, solidarity, hope, and sacred love. In this part I am drawing in large part on the Advent and Lenten reflections of Catholic Charities members from their Reflections offerings,  as well as my thirty years of being with the people who make Catholic Charities a reality in communities across the nation. In doing so, I hope to prompt all of you to think about the virtues of those with whom you work in schools, health care, parishes, and charities and to reflect on your own organizational and personal spirituality as well.
Accompaniment takes many forms among the staff and volunteers of Catholic Charities: the foster parents who care for infants being placed for adoption during the period between initial surrender of the child by the birthmother and formal adoption; a counselor who spends hours one-on-one with the person working to become free of addictions; the sponsoring family teamed with a refugee family as they adjust to a new country, new language, and new culture; a social worker partnered with a single pregnant woman as she goes through nine months of discernment about her future and that of her child; and “friendly visitors” who spend hours with men or women in nursing homes or in prisons. Accompaniment involves patient listening and a caring presence, being companion to the other. The word companion has at its roots the meaning of one who breaks bread with another, and this companionship is a foundation for much of the work within Catholic Charities agencies.
Another very simple term for this caring presence would be that of the “neighbor,” as Father Ragan Shriver of Tennessee writes:
Each day I see staff and volunteers spending time working and speaking with the poor, understanding the issues they face and engaging them in building a better community. When we engage with others we build up what the greatest commandment calls for: love of neighbor. . . . it may be important to share food and shelter with others but it is most essential to live with a deep and pervasive attitude of neighborliness toward the vulnerable and marginalized on our society. . . .We at Catholic Charities all over the country are so involved in the lives of the clients we serve each day, we are truly living out fundamental neighborliness with those we serve. 
Accompaniment begins with presence and listening, but it leads to understanding and compassion, a word whose roots mean to “suffer with.” George Garchar of Youngstown explains:
Especially in today’s tough economic times, people can easily fall into the trap of bitterness and condemnation – the politicians are only looking out for themselves, the illegal immigrants are taking our jobs, the greedy bankers sold us down the river – instead of focusing on positive actions that might be taken. Even in our work with Catholic Charities, we can be tempted to judge our clients, assigning blame where, instead, a measure of understanding is needed. 
This understanding and compassion is not easy work, because the lives of those Charities serves are not easy lives. Sister Mary Lou Stubbs, DC, of Arkansas explains:
We are asked to walk into the difficulties of people’s lives and not only provide them help, but also create hope in their lives. This is often a thankless job, and many days we do not know how to start or what success will look like. 
In her description, Sister Stubbs is naming two distinct characteristics of this accompaniment—(1) its difficulty; and (2) the great unknowns involved. Moralist James Keenan, SJ, describes this involvement in terms of the trademark Catholic virtue of “mercy,” which he defines as “the willingness to enter into the chaos of another so as to respond to the other…”  Many of those served by Catholic Charities come from abusive home environments, life on the streets, a world of addictions, chronic unemployment, and the grinding world of persistent poverty—what Keenan would call “the chaos of the margins.”  Listening to and sharing in their experience of difficulty and chaos is a first step towards recovery or freedom or self-empowerment or simple dignity.
How one can be willing to make this difficult journey begins for many in Charities with a spiritual acknowledgement of their common humanity with those they accompany. They share common humanity and a common sinfulness. The traditional Catholic morality within which I grew up reminded us in moments of judging others less fortunate, “There but for the grace of God go I.” We even know that we have a common tendency to ignore the poverty and suffering around us. Greg Kepferle of Santa Clara County explains:
Since becoming an executive director with responsibilities for fund raising and managing the budget, I have learned to pray “give us this day our daily bread” with a certain pragmatic earnestness. And the prophetic calls for repentance, forgiveness, and sacrifice challenge me. It is easier for me to say, “Woe are you—other people” who neglect the poor while living the high life, who pass laws that cut services to the widows and orphans, and needy. It is harder for me to look at myself and acknowledge when I have turned my back on those in need right in front of me, whether it be a colleague, a staff person, a client, or a stranger. 
Encouraged by this acknowledgement of our common humanity and our common proclivity to sin, even against the poor and vulnerable, Charities workers enter into their accompaniment of those they serve.
Hospitality in Catholic Charities personnel shows itself most vividly when people provide a home for single women with unplanned pregnancies, when others operate a shelter for families who are homeless, when workers staff group homes for abused children, when volunteers provide hot meals and shelter to disaster evacuees, when staff supervise a halfway house for ex-offenders, or when agencies create and staff apartments for persons who are old or disabled. The components of hospitality variously are a safe place, words of welcome, hot and healthy food, respect for individual dignity, and, sometimes, “all the comforts of home.” Hospitality begins, often enough, with simple words of welcome. Mary Ellen Blackwell of Trenton explains:
From the moment we answer the phone or greet a person at the door or the desk, our ministry of hospitality begins. Even if we are not able to provide the needed service or do not have the funds available to assist them with rent or utilities, we can be cordial and courteous. When there are messages on the office answering machine, we need to remember as the psalmist remembers, 'When I cried out, you answered,' and build in time each day to call back those who have left requests for information, referrals, and assistance. 
This virtue of hospitality often directs itself towards those who are rejected or despised in society, as Rosio Gonzalez of Idaho puts it:
Every day we encounter people who have been turned away by society. We embrace immigrants who are not welcomed. We open our hearts to people who are homeless and purposefully forgotten. We visit prisoners and emotionally hold their families as they struggle to reconnect with humanity. 
Embracing immigrants, opening hearts to the homeless, and visiting prisoners or their families reflect the justice of the Jewish Scriptures which was central to the faith of Israel and directed toward widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor. They also reflect a Scriptural emphasis on hospitality.
Such graced hospitality was extended by Abraham and Sarah in the 18th chapter of Genesis, when their hospitality to three strangers on the road is rewarded by the God who was present in these strangers. That same sense of God’s presence also shapes the virtue of hospitality among Charities today. The Good Samaritan in Luke 10 is about hospitality; and it is critical to understanding who is my “neighbor” today. As Pope Benedict explains in Deus Caritas Est, the earlier more narrow definition of neighbor within Israel is now “abolished.” He continues:
Anyone who needs me, and whom I can help, is my neighbor. The concept of “neighbor” is now universalized, yet it remains concrete. Despite being extended to all mankind, it is not reduced to a generic, abstract and undemanding expression of love, but calls for my own practical commitment here and now. 
The Good Samaritan is important to our understanding of hospitality in another important way. It enriches hospitality with the concept of healing. Just as the Samaritan poured wine and oil into the wounds of the stranger by the road and carried him to an inn to care for him, so the practice of hospitality in Catholic Charities and other ministries is often about healing the wounds of abuse, neglect, homelessness, and various forms of psychological and spiritual sickness.
Service of others in need takes many forms within the world of Catholic Charities: mental health counseling, job training, English as a Second Language tutoring, respite care, legal representation, transportation to doctors, dental care, and even the simple provision of food. It is the daily business and ministry of most staff. The more varied the needs in the community, the more comprehensive the services are likely to be. The model for this virtue, however, is very simple and menial: Jesus washes the feet of his disciples (John 13). That image provides an understanding that service begins in simple care for others, often involves divesting ourselves of external power, includes suffering for others, and connects the one serving to the Eucharist.
What most Charities staff do each day are simple tasks of service that make life more bearable for others. Anthony Mullen of Rockville Centre provides us with an example:
As I stood outside the medical examiner’s office the refrain “from death into life” kept running through my mind. Ronnie, a Catholic Charities’ driver for our Meals on Wheels program, died in a car accident earlier that day as he finished his meals route. . . . Ronnie, like countless Catholic Charities employees lived a life of service, bringing much needed food to vulnerable seniors. Ronnie’s was not a “morsel” of betrayal but a meal of sustenance, and a witness to hope, love and dignity. He used the delivery of the meal as a way to make contact, share a joke, and let those whom we are called to serve know that they are not alone.
The serving is often just as simple as that provided by Ronnie to senior citizens. As such, over time it can be what one staffer calls, “beautiful drudgery,”  working face to face with poverty, homelessness, hunger, fear, and sadness on a daily basis. Service, however, also can involve great difficulty and pain. Heather Reynolds of Fort Worth acknowledges, “I know how very busy and stressful these times are for us. We are being asked to do more with less and are seeing so much pain with the families we serve.” 
In addition, service of others—just as washing the disciples’ feet—brings the Charities worker into the mystery of the selflessness, suffering, and transformation that lies at the heart of the mystery of the Eucharist. According to Briston Fernandes of North Dakota:
In a deliberate attempt at “trans signification,” John inserts the washing of the feet at the very place of the institution of the Eucharist in the synoptic gospels. The “Gospel of Signs” conveys to us the profound and sacramental connection between the Eucharist and a life of service. First by example, then by word, Jesus teaches us that to be his followers we must live the Eucharist through a life of selflessness, simplicity and humble service. Jesus turns our world upside down and our lives inside out.
Whether we are direct service staff, managers or directors, we are called to “remove our outer garments” of power, position and authority, gird ourselves with the humility of a servant and care for the most lowly and vulnerable amongst us. When we divest ourselves of the exterior trappings of power, we will be given the power of the Spirit that Jesus promised us not only to provide help and create hope, but also to transform lives by our gentleness and integrity as followers of Jesus. 
Simple service, then, is the most basic of virtues and yet it contains within itself caring for another person and the seeds of transformation of the one serving, a point to which I will return later.
As a virtue among Catholic Charities workers, solidarity can be seen in individual advocacy with a state agency for a person with disabilities, negotiating with the power company for a poor family threatened with a utility cut-off, door-to-door neighborhood visiting on behalf of safe schools, writing a letter to Congress about housing, or legislative testimony to improve drug treatment programs. In a way, this is a new “virtue.”  While used by Pope John XXIII in Pacem in Terris in 1963, the term solidarity found its way into our Catholic virtue lexicon most explicitly in the writing of Pope John Paul II, where he explicitly says, “Solidarity is undoubtedly a Christian virtue.” In his encyclical Sollicitudo Rei Socialis, the Pope explains solidarity in one of his most quoted texts:
It is above all a question of interdependence, sensed as a system determining relationships in the contemporary world in its economic, cultural, political and religious elements, and accepted as a moral category. When interdependence becomes recognized in this way, the correlative response as a moral and social attitude, as a “virtue,” is solidarity. This then is not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good, that is to say, to the good of all and of each individual because we are all really responsible for all. 
This solidarity among Catholic Charities personnel begins in their seeing the connections between individual client suffering and social realities, calls them to add advocacy to their commitment to service, requires work towards reconciliation in society, and demands a faithful commitment to the prophetic task.
Tina Andrade of Hawaii expresses her insights connecting the experiences of clients to the structures of society in this way:
In our ministries we see that sometimes our brothers and sisters are “banished” from their own land. They are denied basic dignity and rights to safety and shelter. Some may lack these basic necessities as a result of their personal choices; yet today’s economic situation reveals that many experience impoverished situations because of societal structures and the choices we collectively make. 
Social workers and community volunteers do not immediately make this move to advocacy, nor is it an easy transition for many to make. That reluctance has a long Scriptural history, comments Susan Stevenot Sullivan of Atlanta:
The call to solidarity with people on the margins, those who are poor and voiceless, is not one that prophetic messengers initially welcome. The usual reaction in scripture is to object—that we are not suitable or are not ready. Those called are reminded that what must be done, though difficult, will be accomplished with God’s authority and assistance and timing. 
The incorporation of the commitment to solidarity into the initial call to service of the poor and vulnerable then has certain repercussions.
One is the need for staff and volunteers, recalling the hesitancy of many of the prophets to speak God’s word publicly, to beg for the grace of fidelity to the fullness of solidarity. Karen Johnston of Green Bay believes that this quality is needed now more than ever:
We see each day in our work at Catholic Charities opportunities to look to the Lord for strength. In the faces of compassion we offer to those who are at our door, in our struggle to speak truth to power, and in our advocacy for those we serve we stand strong and faithful to the covenant the Lord has given us through his life and witness. … We are called to be faithful to God’s promise and keep his word. There has never been a time when the world has needed more prophetic witness than the one we may offer. 
Solidarity then fits into the overall picture of virtues within the Catholic Charities network, acknowledging that the challenges are real, can be difficult, and require the grace of fidelity to stay focused and committed to what can be very unpopular. The call then is to be people of hope, part of a community of hope empowered by God’s Spirit to remain at this task.
Hope as a virtue is crucial to the people of Catholic Charities and all ministries. It may take shape in working with adoptive parents and birthparents to create a future for an infant, building assets through a matched savings program for the distant goal of buying a first home, providing rigorous job skills training to a long unemployed worker, nurturing determination in an addict to remain sober one day at a time, or encouraging a community group to combat drugs in their neighborhood. Such hope is essential to the faithfulness of the charity worker to these often difficult tasks, but it is also critical that it be communicated to those with whom the Church works.
To many clients, hope is essential to the willingness and persistence needed to confront what are often immense challenges. Edward Lis of Philadelphia thinks this is central to the mission of God in which Catholic Charities participates:
Isaiah’s God speaks such uplifting words to those who find themselves so burdened: “I will help you . . . I will grasp your hand . . . I will answer you . . . I will not forsake you.” God’s mission, and thus ours, is to encourage bruised and broken people to believe and hope again. Our compassionate care invites them to risk the audacity of hope in the face of immense challenges because “if God cares and you care, then I must be worth caring about.” 
This “audacity of hope” is even more needed in the hard economic times which have hit this country and especially affected those who are poor. To Celeste Matheson of Peoria this means that Charities have important opportunities as bearers of hope to those they serve:
Today more than ever it seems people are losing hope. We know all too well that during these tumultuous economic times, it is our clients—those facing home foreclosure, or who wonder where their next meal will come from, or how they will clothe their children—who may feel particularly hopeless. . . . Could it be that at Catholic Charities, we have the awesome opportunity to help those less fortunate begin to believe once again? The things we do each and every day to help those less fortunate could be just what they need to begin to believe in a better tomorrow. It is up to us to send that message of hope, … for us to be the visible, wondrous sign of God's love. 
The call to embody hope can be challenging to Catholic Charities staff and volunteers when they face increasing demands from clients created by these hard times and when they themselves and their families also may be affected adversely. Efforts at advocacy and community organizing are made more difficult in tighter economic times as well.
Heather Reynolds of Fort Worth counsels that these hard times make it all the more important for staff and volunteers to stay rooted in God who can create and sustain hope:
However, our first call is to God by spending time with Him in fellowship, prayer, and study. When we seek His heart, all else falls into place. … And when we focus on being men and women after God’s heart, all who we meet and serve will sense it. This is when we truly become a beacon of hope in our communities. 
In terms of hope, Jay Brown of Washington, DC, urges Charities members to take the longer view and to rely on the promises of God for the strength to make charity and justice a reality:
Our work is focused on the future; our work is focused on the promise of what is coming for the individuals with whom we serve, and the communities in which we work; but the promise isn’t reality—yet.
God promises that there are days to come when there will be an end to suffering. Our task is to hold onto our faith in that promise and continue to work towards the realization of that promise. . . . Let God’s promises strengthen us as we carry out works of charity and justice. Let our work move the world toward fulfillment of what God has promised—in days to come. 
Hope is a much unappreciated virtue, but critical to those who work in adverse circumstances and sometimes against what seem to be overwhelming odds.
In 1986, Czech Poet-President Václav Havel described hope in words that for me capture the distinctiveness of this virtue and its ability to help Charities workers to continue at their difficult work even in hard times:
Either we have hope within us or we don’t; it is a dimension of the soul, and it’s not essentially dependent on some particular observation of the world or estimate of the situation. Hope is not prognostication. It is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. . . .
Hope, in this deep and powerful sense, is not the same as joy that things are going well, or willingness to invest in enterprises that are obviously headed for early success, but rather, an ability to work for something because it is good, not just because it stands a chance to succeed.
Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out. . . . It is this hope, above all, which gives us the strength to live and continually try new things, even in conditions that seem as hopeless as ours do, here and now. 
What Havel describes as “hopeless conditions” in the final lines quoted here is his homeland under communism. Amazingly, three years later, communism collapsed in most of Europe. What so many people had hoped and prayed for during so many years suddenly became a reality.
Hope, then, is indeed a virtue important in the world of Catholic Charities, one with which many staff and volunteers are endowed and which they in turn share with those they serve. It is also essential to all of us who work in the Church’s ministries.
6) Sacred Love
The sacred love that is found all across the world of Charities shows itself in staff outreach to the rejected of society, great concern extended to even resentful people, forgiveness for those whom others have despaired of, protection of those who are self-destructive, and persistent joy in the face of repeated failure and defeat. In its most powerful form, this love extends itself to the despised and the guilty. Tricia Wallin of Kansas City-St. Joseph believes this most reflects who God is and is only made possible by God:
In my work with the agency, I encounter many who society would detest. Parents who choose to physically abuse their children to relieve their own stress, children who crave love and affection so much they will violate others to meet their own needs, and parents who find comfort for their afflictions in substances which cloud their judgment and alter their mood. . . . [God] wants all to be loved and respected, no matter what the offense. He can enlighten our eyes as His servants to demonstrate His love and compassion for humankind. It is only truly through Him that we can carry His message of love to others. 
This universality of God’s love for humanity in the work of Catholic Charities staff and volunteers not only reaches those despised by society, but even those who despise themselves.
Such work is seldom easy. Yet, the experience of being loved first by God lays the foundation for the ability to love others, even those who appear most unlovable. This is the same love that we humans have experienced from God, even when we rejected and crucified Christ. Father Dick Bresnahan of Peoria sees this as the roots of difficult loving:
As we look at the cross today, God says to us, “No matter what you do to me, no matter how terrible it might be, I still love you.” Nothing, but nothing, can destroy God’s love, not even the cross. In fact in and through Christ on the cross God speaks that love in a very powerful way under the worst of circumstances.
We see and deal with so much suffering in our world and in our work that we are tempted to take a ‘fight or flight’ attitude. But in the cross God teaches us not to run, not to reject but to stay committed, to stay present and to work hard to love as best we can, even when circumstances encourage us to turn away. In the cross, God says to us as nothing else does or can “I love you.” In our lives and in our work, the cross calls us to love even in the most difficult moments. 
This empowering love of God—despite human rejection—sustains the ability of Charities staff and volunteers to reach out in love to even the most difficult people, even to those who reject their offer of loving care.
Not only does God’s love make it possible for staff and volunteers to love those they serve, but their love in turn communicates to others God’s presence, God’s power, and God’s compassion. Lori Fox of Charlotte believes that this is an honor for the Charities worker and a source of powerful hope:
But for many, the comfort of God seems so distant and intangible. … We ask, how do we know God is here? What is our proof? Jesus said that through his works, all can see that the Father is in him and he is in the Father. With every one of his works, he shows us that God’s mighty power, tender compassion, and healing transformation are being poured upon us.
Jesus also said that what he has done, we can do too, because God is within us as well. We at Catholic Charities have the honor of carrying out so much of God’s good work. With every bag of healthy food, every hand that wipes away a tear, every penny that keeps a family from being evicted from their home, we share the God that is within us with those who so badly need to see and believe. Our works, just as Jesus’ works, give proof that God is here. 
Louis Cocchiarella of Toledo echoes these sentiments by emphasizing the expectations that clients have about Charities staff and volunteers and how they will be treated by “God’s people”:
In a recent survey one of our clients wrote, “I like Catholic Charities because God’s people are there.” When people come to Catholic Charities for help they expect that they will find God’s people working there and will be treated accordingly. As long as we see ourselves and the people we serve as God’s people, we can be assured that we will continue to be refreshed and sustained by God’s love and grace and that we will receive the strength we need to continue to do God’s work in the world. 
This experience of the love of God confirms the insight of St. Ignatius of Loyola and many saints that love shows itself in deeds, not in words. As Pope Benedict put it in Deus Caritas Est, when writing of the charitable activity of the Christian, “He knows that God is love (cf. 1 Jn 4:8) and that God’s presence is felt at the very time when the only thing we do is to love.” 
Loving in the power of God affects the staff member or volunteer as well. Emily McCue of Kansas City, MO believes that it should be a great source of joy. In her words, “Each of us should have a heart of joy, no matter what our task or who sees us doing it, because we are spreading the light of God’s grace and love to those who need to see it in action in order to believe that they are loved.  To Becky Reiners of Baton Rouge, such loving service is a privilege which transforms staff and volunteers even as they serve:
What a privilege is ours, that God allows us to share in the work of redeeming the world; what an honor, that God uses our living hands to heal, our voices to comfort, our arms to strengthen and uphold the “little ones” at the margins of our society. And as we reach out our hands each day to the hungry, the homeless, the despairing, we ourselves are transformed, becoming in truth what we claim to be: the healing, comforting, living Body of Christ. 
Finally, Sister Joan Jurski, OSF, of Raleigh believes that God’s love and God’s activity in working with those who are poor and vulnerable call the Charities worker to quiet moments to appreciate that she stands on holy ground:
Holy people, holy places! Wherever I will stand today may I think of that place as holy because God’s things are happening there. It may be my office cluttered with paper and overdue reports, a homeless shelter, a family center, a counseling room and a myriad of other places. I will take a moment to be still and know that where I am God is and this is holy ground.
“Amen I say to you whatever you did to the least of these brothers and sisters you did to me.” 
For Sister Jurski and others, it is clear that the sacred love of God is embodied in their work with the poor and vulnerable, empowers their daily work, and enriches their own lives in miraculous ways.
To hear the women and men of Catholic Charities themselves speak of spirituality is to appreciate how their virtues touch their lives and their work. We also hear from them how these same virtues call them to greater accompaniment, hospitality, service, solidarity, hope, and sacred love. These virtues and others weave the fabric of their spirituality, a holiness that they learn from one another and from those they serve and a holy graciousness that they share daily with so many others in marvelous ways. Reflecting on these realities of Church ministry in service to people in need reminds us again that, in the midst of this complex, superheated, graced and sinful world, that old adage remains so true: faith works wonders.
Office Location: Mercy Hall, Room 306 | Mailing Address: 6363 St. Charles Avenue, Box 94 New Orleans, LA 70118