Resolving to offer a real hand of help

January 1, 2010 

— Dorothy Day, the late co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement said, "It's the little works we do."

As many of us ponder New Year's resolutions for 2010, it would be good to look at options that cover both our physical and spiritual well-being. By combining Day's words with the oft-quoted injunction in Matthew's Gospel to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit the prisoner (Matt. 25:31-46) we can resolve to take our lives to a more meaningful level.

The Matthew reading, often referred to as "the judgment of the nations," is a biblical litmus test for personal salvation. Solidarity with the outcasts was a central theme in the message and practices of Jesus, and compliance is not as difficult as you might think.

Feeding the hungry; drink for the thirsty: There are soup kitchens and missions aplenty in the Triangle and beyond that are always in need of volunteers. Keep in mind that these ministries are often over-supplied with volunteers during the Thanksgiving and Christmas seasons, but the work of feeding the hungry goes on 365 days a year. The Wake Inter-Faith Food Shuttle can always use an extra hand. In addition to direct feeding programs, Raleigh-based Stop Hunger Now, Bread for the World (a Christian hunger-relief lobby) and Durham-based Church World Service, which conducts CROP Walks, offer advocacy opportunities to eradicate hunger.

Clothing the naked: Various not-for-profit thrift stores distribute used clothes free of charge to the needy. Seek out those places, such as the Salvation Army, that make direct service to the needy a priority, or better yet, collect winter clothes now among friends, head to those places where the homeless gather and distribute the clothes directly. Take lots of hats, gloves and socks in the winter.

Welcome the stranger: Discrimination against Latinos is growing at an alarming rate in North Carolina. Resolve to go out of your way to offer a smile and kind words to the immigrants you meet. Write a letter to your congressional representative in support of the Dream Act, legislation that is a hopeful first step toward reforming our broken immigration system. Get involved with Raleigh-based organizations such as El Pueblo and the North Carolina Justice Center that provide services to immigrants.

Care for the sick: Head to the nearest nursing home or assisted-living facility and visit someone who could use some companionship. Get involved with the pastoral care team at your place of worship and join a visitation of the sick ministry. Contact the chaplain's office at a local hospital and see whether there are any volunteer opportunities.

Visit the prisoner: Church and prison ministry groups get access to jails and prisons pretty easily, but kindness toward a prisoner can be a secular act as well. Prison is a lonely place, and receiving a letter or card at mail call will likely be the highlight of a prisoner's day. Women's Prison in Raleigh includes more than 1,000 incarcerated mothers. Raleigh's Central Prison has scores of men serving life sentences. Contact individual chaplains and ask for a pen pal. Carrboro's People of Faith Against the Death Penalty can get you the name of someone to write on Central Prison's death row. All it takes is some comforting words on paper and a postage stamp.

Lastly, as you meet the outcasts, learn their names and their stories; build friendships. As you resolve to help others in 2010, the grace you give will become the grace you receive. The little works you do will make a big difference for the better in the lives of others.

Patrick O'Neill is co-founder of the Fr. Charlie Mulholland Catholic Worker House, a pacifist Christian community that provides hospitality to women and children in crisis.

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