Relationships are so important as we carry out ministry within the parish, in the city, in El Salvador, in Nicaragua, Maine or Kentucky. I believe the strength of our outreach ministries are a direct result of the personal relationships we have developed over the years with all the places to we reach out to... or we have reached out to. It was painful when we backed away from our friends in Maine and in El Salvador; the reasons vary having to make that action. As I reflect on our efforts I am always spirit filled when I think about the love shared in all our outreach efforts. With this is mind I offer you the following reflections on on relationships.
In 2010 Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, was a guest on Oprah Winfrey Show. There he announced a $100 million donation to improve Newark’s public schools. The city’s mayor and the state’s governor lauded the plan. The reforms did not succeed. Elite computer consultants and systems managers were a big part of the budget, reports Dale Russakoff in The Prize: Who’s in Charge of America’s Schools? (Houghton Mifflin, 2015). Zuckerberg “thought he was doing what the people on the ground in Newark wanted, but no one on the ground had been consulted,” she says.
Genuine reform requires more than money, celebrity power, computers, or seminars. This is not to fault technicians, scientists, entrepreneurs or engineers. Our capacity to reason and to invent is a beautiful gift. But improvements in race relations, worker productivity, health care delivery, educational attainment, inter-religious understanding and more must grow out of dense layers of relationships. All of us at times make the elitist mistake; we forego the active discipline of making and nourishing one-to-one relationships.
The cause of inequality, to mention one example, is not lack of access to Facebook or insufficient crowdsourcing. It is, as Pope Francis explains, a paucity of relationships. The solution involves getting close to others; creating, in his phrase, “a culture of encounter” in which we “smell the sheep”.
God, we are convinced, has put creative and salvific potential inside daily life. So we start with the material, with nature-all of us, technicians, researchers, retail workers, homemakers, students, public officials in New Jersey and philanthropists like Zuckerberg. The next step is the crucial one. We must listen to one another with a disposition toward embedded grace. As Catholics we believe that God is everywhere (and nowhere, of course). Listeners need not have a prestigious degree or the most apps on their cellular device. Instead, they competently go about their daily work, extending compassion and advancing justice. We trust that if we do our best to connect with one another, God will provide the rest.
Let us continue to pray for peace in our world!
In peace and courage,