Today, May 1, Catholics around the world celebrate the great feast of St. Joseph the Worker. It is a day to reflect on the value of work in the quest for human fulfillment. Since Joseph also is the patron of social justice, this day too provides an opportunity to reflect on how we use the money earned through the sweat of our brow.
Charitable giving is a deep and venerable tradition within the Catholic Church. St. Paul encouraged the early Church in Corinth to set aside the first portion of earned wages to support the Christian community and to give to the poor. Today, we speak of the great penitential disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
Our faith’s focus on giving to the poor does not go without notice by the larger community. Catholics give more money to organizations that serve the poor than any other faith tradition in the world. With God’s grace, our family started hospitals to care for the sick. We established orphanages and soup kitchens to care for the poor and the forgotten. And the Church educates more children than any other religious or scholarly institution in the world. In fact, we ourselves are the largest charitable organization on the planet, bringing relief and comfort to those in need.
We do this because in life of Jesus Christ, we have learned this great truth: To live, we must give ourselves away.
As we continue through the year, Catholics will make important decisions about how we will be stewards of God’s gifts and resources. Too often these decisions are made in haste and without sufficient information about the most impactful options available for our personal charitable giving.
Our faith’s social teaching provides good parameters about making these decisions. The Church teaches that we must accurately measure both the societal impact and the personal impact of the organizations we give to. In short, we must ask ourselves: How well does an organization support the good of all people and the whole person?
We should be mindful of how much of an impact our giving can have and dedicate our hard-earned resources accordingly as we work together to bring about a more just and loving world. There are some organizations that can do extraordinary things with small sums. For instance, many global health challenges can be addressed so cost-effectively that modest donations can have a tremendous impact.
Measuring an organization’s impact on society and our donation’s impact takes prayer and study, but the results are worth it. Take—for example—the global effort to control and eliminate neglected tropical diseases. These are debilitating infections that impact more than one billion of the world’s poorest people – and keep them trapped in an endless cycle of extreme poverty.
The cost of treating and preventing the seven most common neglected tropical diseases is approximately $0.50 per person annually. And the results are dramatic. With consistent treatment, people no longer suffer from severe symptoms, such as blindness and disfigurement. They can stay in school, find productive work and provide for their families.
This is an example of a small investment with large and immediate returns. The math is astonishing: a person could give $1,000 to an organization that fights neglected tropical diseases, such as the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases’ END7 campaign, and save 2,000 persons from the potential suffering of these dreadful diseases. If enough people give – speeding up the momentum in affected countries – we will succeed in eliminating these diseases as public health threats by the end of the decade.
Though this is just one example of an issue and an organization where Catholic giving can have a huge impact, it is a powerful one. Charitable giving ought to be infused with the “missionary impulse” Pope Francis called for so powerfully in Evangelii Gaudium: “If the whole Church takes up this missionary impulse, she has to go forth to everyone without exception,” he wrote. “But to whom should she go first? When we read the Gospel we find a clear indication: not so much our friends and neighbors, but above all the poor and sick, those who are usually despised and overlooked, “those who cannot repay you” (Luke 14:14).”
At a time when Catholics are becoming perhaps the biggest social and economic force in the United States, it’s time to re-double our Christian focus of practicing charity. God has never tired of loving us, so we too must be tireless in our efforts to love and serve others. In short, we give, because we have received. And with a little bit of research, intentional prayer and strategic planning, we can be more effective stewards of God’s gifts and make of this blessed, but broken world, something all the more blessed still.