BY ANDY BARTON
One afternoon earlier this month, I received a call from an attorney I know. He explained that a woman had been sleeping in a covered area behind his downtown office for some time and he was looking for guidance on how to help her. He was not asking to get rid of her – he had been allowing her to sleep in that spot for months, occasionally allowing her to sleep in the building. Instead, he was expressing a genuine concern for the woman’s health and safety as the nights started to get much colder.
This interaction took place in the days leading up to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary. On that day, as I listened to the Gospel reading from Luke recalling the angel Gabriel’s visit to Mary, and heard those familiar words: “Hail Mary, full of grace! The Lord is with you.” I thought about grace and what the attorney had been doing for the woman.
Grace is both the gift that God has given to us and the act of transferring that gift to others, which makes it especially significant during the Advent season. The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “Grace is a participation in the life of God… the exercise of the responsibilities of the Christian life and of the ministries within the Church.”
The Christmas celebration of the coming of the Lord in a way, also marks the beginning of the Church. This, too, is cause for celebration. No other institution or affiliation supports the poor and vulnerable in the same capacity. A study by the University of Indiana’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy found that 62% of individuals who identify with a faith tradition give to charity compared to 42% of nonreligious individuals who give. Similarly, a Gallup poll found that 82% of people who attend church regularly volunteer compared to 51% of those who do not attend church.
It is worth noting that those who do not identify as religious still volunteer and donate; however, participation in charity is likely still connected in some way to the Church. Christianity is weaved throughout American culture in ways that make its tenants present even for those who do not identify as religious. As Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, “It is a religion which has given birth to Anglo-American societies: one must never lose sight of that.”
The birth that we celebrate annually during Advent and Christmas, is generally recognized regardless of someone’s religious affiliation. The impact on our world is understood even if it is not always articulated. Perhaps that is why people who have never attended a church still celebrate the holiday and know the words to Silent Night. Regardless of faith, people understand on some fundamental level that “man shall live forevermore because of Christmas day.”
Which brings me back to the homeless woman and the attorney. She has been connected with the Homeless Outreach Program operated by the Colorado Springs Fire Department. Whether they will be able to help her is a complicated proposition that I will save for another column, but she is being cared for. In my conversations with the attorney, I never asked why he had felt called to help her. He is Catholic but did not say if he was acting in accordance with his faith or was simply doing what felt right. Either way, it was an act of grace and a reminder of all that we must be grateful for this Advent season.
Andy Barton is the President and CEO of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. This article first appeared in the Colorado Catholic Herald.