In Catholic elementary school, I often heard a joke: “If you don’t know the answer on a test, just write ‘Jesus,’ because Jesus is always the answer.” At 22, that joke seems truer and truer. Jesus really is the answer to every question, but not quite in the way my classmates meant.
At my current school, the University of Washington, politics is the buzz. Elections, social justice issues and public policy seem to be of utmost importance, and I get it. Many of us see political action as the best way to make a positive impact on the world. After all, our political discussions seek to solve some of the world’s biggest problems.
But as a young Catholic, I’ve learned that political action doesn’t hold a candle to Christian discipleship.
This isn’t to say politics isn’t important — the church teaches that governments have an essential role in defending and promoting the common good, and we should bring our faith to bear in the public square. But for a Catholic, politics isn’t enough.
Take an issue like economic inequality. Yes, good public policy is necessary to correct the scandal of unjust and excessive inequality. But Jesus calls us to something higher: the virtue of charity.
“Give to everyone who asks of you.”
“Sell what you have and give to the poor.”
“Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
When thinking about poverty or social injustice, it’s tempting to say, “That’s what I pay taxes for. The government can fix those problems.” But Jesus tells us to love our neighbor. Us personally!
The government can disburse money, but it cannot love. Only we can. To receive a check from the government can be helpful, even essential — but to be shown love by one’s neighbor can be life-changing. That’s the power of the Gospel.
I’ve learned this from my dad. By volunteering at Nativity House in Tacoma, a program of Catholic Community Services, he helps provide hot meals and housing to those in need. “When I hand someone their meal and they thank me, they’re not just thanking me for the food,” he says. “They’re also thanking me because I’ve shown them that someone cares. It’s something personal.”
My dad doesn’t see problems to be solved, but people to be loved. It’s easy to watch the news and lament, “There are so many problems in the world,” but Jesus reminds us that life isn’t a game of numbers.
As Auxiliary Bishop Daniel Mueggenborg says, everything we do as Christians is meant to be ministry — the sacred action of Christ serving Christ. We are called to say “Yes” to the presence of Jesus in us and working through us to serve Jesus present in others.
If we can do this, loving one neighbor at a time, we will change the world.
Jesus really is the answer.
Jack Mennie is a member of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Federal Way and the Prince of Peace Catholic Newman Center at the University of Washington.
Northwest Catholic - November 2020