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You matter – yes, you

Kate Barrett | Thursday, January 27, 2011

Did you know that junk mail eats up 100 million trees a year? That the average North American consumes 35,000 cookies in a lifetime? Some statistics impress us, others make us cringe. The ones we ought to think hardest about challenge us to acknowledge that each one of us makes choices that add up to become quite significant. While what we use, or eat, or buy, or do with our free time may seem like a drop in the bucket — or even the tiniest fraction of a drop in the ocean — we matter. Especially if we join our little drops with others, we can and will have an impact. How about this: This year in Chicago, the local chapter of Catholic Charities will provide 2.2 million free meals to the hungry. That’s just over 6,000 meals every day.

Since the days when you who are now undergrads were in first grade, we’ve seen major progress in our understanding of environmental issues such as energy use, recycling, and the true costs of food and petroleum products. We’ve leapt into technology that keeps getting smaller, faster, more capable and more mobile. We’ve made slow but steady progress toward creating a more diverse society, welcoming of the talents and abilities of women and minorities. All this momentum has happened, not because some mysterious theoretical floodgate opened and the waters of change poured through, but because individuals joined their little drops together until the bucket overflowed, and through the energies of so many talented, committed people we learned to care for our natural resources and honor the diverse gifts of every member of our society.

Well, why don’t we gather up our energy, our considerable talents and our resources and the foundational truths of our Christian faith to make the same kind of difference in the Church and the world? Look back at that impressive statistic about Catholic Charities in Chicago: Committed people in a city that knows much poverty decided that they couldn’t let their neighbors go hungry, and they did something about it. On our own campus, look at the impact the Alliance for Catholic Education has made in the United States and beyond since the early 1990’s, when it grew with great bursts of energy out of a conversation among a few friends over dinner.

Recently, the 2011 Week of Prayer for Christian Unity took as its theme a verse from the Acts of the Apostles: “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42). This annual, world-wide week of prayer, planned jointly by Catholics and other Christian communions throughout the world, challenges all of us, from every Christian Church, to examine the truths we know from the earliest followers of Jesus Christ. We must devote ourselves in love to one another, and we must make a serious effort to live as disciples of Christ. Why can’t we join together the faith we share, each of our small drops of life-giving water, to create a new source of “alternative energy,” to bring hope to people who are thirsty for a fuller, deeper life, to bring community to people who need the help of others for their most basic needs?

Next week on our own campus we will celebrate Christian Unity Week. Here at Notre Dame and St. Mary’s our students are a tiny fraction of the 67 million Catholics and many other millions of faithful Christians in the United States. Could we feel like merely a drop in the bucket? Sure. Or we could remember that no bucket ever got filled except by adding a drop at a time. What if we started talking to each other over lunch? What if we each spent time praying about the gifts God has given us to use on behalf of each other? What if we gathered up a few other people and tried to do something, or a few somethings, that would lead us closer to God’s will for how we are to live in the world?

We ourselves cannot bring about the Kingdom of God — only God can do that. We cannot save ourselves or the world by our own good works — only God can do that. We can, however, join together with other believers in the kind of communion of life and faith into which God calls us. We can participate in the kinds of practices and habits God shows us through the example of Jesus; we can share in God’s saving work in the world, one drop at a time.

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Kate Barrett, director of the Emmaus Program. She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.