After a year of debate with the Saint-Simonians in the Conference of History, defending the Catholic faith, Frédéric Ozanam and his friends were confronted with this challenge: “Even you, who pride yourself on your Catholicity, what are you doing to show the vitality and efficacy, to prove the truth of your faith?” [Baunard, 64]
It was a challenge Frédéric took to heart; it affected him deeply. After all, he said to his friends, having spent an entire year in vigorous debate, proclaiming the truth, defending the church; for all the educated arguments, for all the passion, “have we made one single conquest for Jesus Christ?” [Ibid, 65]
The Society was not founded to answer a challenge to feed or clothe or go to the poor. That was the answer to the challenge. The challenge was to prove the truth of our faith. Ozanam, man of letters, academic, brilliant speaker and debater, realized that words alone were not enough to do this, that we must act.
Today, we continue the timeless tradition of the home visit, responding to calls for help from our neighbors in need. But is there even more we could do – not just to alleviate suffering, but to prove the truth of our faith?
In so many of our communities, we see the homeless – asleep on a bench, huddling in a doorway, zealously guarding their few possessions. Are they the ones, in need and forgotten, that our Rule directs us to “seek out and find”? [Rule, Part I, 1.5] Do we hold ourselves back at times because we fear our outreach will be unwelcome, since we know we cannot alleviate all of their needs?
We are created to live in community. The greatest need of all people is to be part of a community, and there is none greater than the community of Christian faith. Whatever material offering we may have for the homeless, there is nothing greater we can give than our hearts, our friendship, a simple smile, and a greeting. All people are buoyed by human connections, but especially those who are most often treated as invisible.
It is we who are first evangelized by our encounter with Christ in the person of the poor. And it is we who are challenged to imitate Christ in this encounter; to prove the truth of our faith, just as Frédéric and his friends were once challenged to do. It was not, and is not easy, but the best proof of our faith remains unchanged: “We must do what is most agreeable to God. Therefore, we must do what Our Lord Jesus Christ did when preaching the Gospel. Let us go to the poor.” [Baunard, 65]
Where can I go to “seek out and find” the poor??