Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Upturning in the Economic Downturn

Last week another Daughter of St. Paul and I were chatting about the challenges we face in raising funds for the mission, especially in helping people we meet to understand why we’re even asking. Because the community she’s assigned to sits on prime real estate, it’s even harder. People don’t realize we bought it under, let’s say, very favorable circumstances. Plus, it didn’t need major maintenance (which we hadn’t budgeted for) until it was renovated two decades ago. A lot can go wrong in twenty years, and now it’s aging—with all that accompanies that process. She said, “People think we must have some money tucked away just to survive there. They’re surprised when I tell them that we get no funding from the diocese, and that whatever money we live on comes from the sale of religious books!” (Remember Borders?) “They’re so impressed when I tell them that we can’t just go into a grocery store when we need food and buy whatever we want; we have a modest budget to work with, and if we don’t have the money to get something, we wait until next time.” Just like the real world.

I can vouch for that. The community is not starving by any means, but their lifestyle would astound any of their next door neighbors who might bother to inquire. We’re not salaried. We don’t get a commission on how many media products we sell. Each of us is given an allowance of $20 a month. Fortunately we’re set up in such a way that none of us ever goes permanently without what she really needs: We pool our income from the work we do—whether it’s from the cash drawer at the end of the day, or stipends for talks we give, or monetary gifts we receive communally or personally. Then out of that common fund we pay expenses for the house, insurance, medical care, and other personal or community necessities, as well as for the development of the mission.

I can tell you, even though virtually all of us have tried to live frugally in the past, these times have sensitized our hearts even more to the plight of the vanishing middle class. Besides individually and communally trying to live more “creatively,” we’re putting everything we can into our evangelizing mission that, while it empathizes with suffering, offers Christian hope to those who suffer if their priorities have put God and spiritual values toward the bottom of their life-list.

In the comedy Last Holiday, middle class New Orleanian Georgia Byrd, is presumed to be terminally ill and decides to finally turn her dreams into reality. Her personal growth prompts even strangers to change; everyone is touched by her life. In one revealing scene, she flies to the defense of a masseuse who was being verbally abused by a client. Years of demanding routine work in retail had given Georgia a heart for the working woman especially, and in the process, her compassion reached out even to the abuser in justice, humor, and forgiveness.

Karen Sterling, our Boston receptionist, commented on the news about the euro today, and in particular about the greed, carelessness, and debt mentality in human beings worldwide, regardless of the size of their bank accounts. In her estimation—and I couldn’t agree more—this is what has driven economies wild. She distilled the attitude of many in a few words: “I need just one more thing to make me happier than I am now.” I would add: And if I can’t pay for it now, I’ll worry about it later. In Last Holiday, Matthew Kragen, the egotistical owner of a profitable department store chain, put it this way: “Enough is never enough.” To the degree we live like this, we are all both perpetrators and victims of our situation.

The Pauline mission can pull us and everybody else out of this quagmire. Whether we’re publishing a book on a spiritual approach to time management, singing in concert about the incarnational meaning of the Christmas season, highlighting the Church’s social teaching though our workshops on media literacy, or being present to people who walk into our PBM centers looking for a little solace, understanding, or direction in their faith life, we can say through our mission, “Yes, one more thing will make you happier, and that’s a real relationship with God.”

The Advent letter of Sr. Antonieta Bruscato, our superior general, describes the season’s call to us this year. It echoes the call that, through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus issues to us all in the Gospel:
“Among the attitudes it suggests that we cultivate individually and communally are silence, ‘understood as listening to God through the various ways he reveals himself,’ and sobriety of life, which means balance and moderation, detachment and freedom, a focus on essentials, and a sense of responsibility.
     “In the unique conjunction of historical and economic events that we are experiencing on a global level today, we ourselves should be the first to decisively witness to sobriety of life, renunciation and sharing.”
She concludes by inviting us to answer this call joyfully in “the company of the expectant Virgin, the disciple who, imbued with the Word, gave him flesh for the life of the world.”

I invite you to join your prayers to ours in these days as we make a special novena to St. Joseph, another favorite Advent figure:
Click here to order.
St. Joseph, we bless you as protector and provider of the Holy Family, friend of the poor and of those struggling financially, and the saint of divine Providence. On earth you represented the universal goodness and concern of the heavenly Father. Your own life was one of hard work and poverty. Intercede for us today as we bring our own financial difficulties to you; present them to the Father and to your foster Son. We trust in your certain intercession.
     May we learn from you, blessed Joseph, to live in the Gospel spirit of poverty serenely and joyfully:
—to produce, taking advantage of every opportunity to proclaim God’s Word “in season and out of season,” with all the media of communication available to us, fruitful branches on the vine;
—to provide for the needs of our mission and our community through just recompense for our work, as well as by seeking and encouraging trust in the blessings of divine Providence, and by sharing even in our want;
—to preserve what we have, attentive not to waste, damage, or neglect the goods of the Congregation, thus avoiding the pitfalls of our consumer society;
—to renounce: what is superfluous, the self-centered use of goods, obsession with comfort, and insistence on personal preferences—living simply and frugally in imitation of Jesus the Master;
—to build up the kingdom of God inside and outside our house, letting poverty blossom into charity, certain that then “all else will be given besides.”
     Blessed Joseph, we trust that if we strive to live in the spirit of poverty, the Father will not fail to provide for our needs and the growth of the mission. Strengthen us in our good resolutions, do not let us be overcome by anxiety, inspire us with workable solutions for our difficulties, and bless our apostolic endeavors. Amen.
                                —prayer by Sr. Mary Leonora Wilson, provincial superior
Photo credits: M. Emmanuel Alves, FSP; Staten Island Advance

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