Every once in a while I like to give up my creature comforts to remind myself of the blessings God has afforded me. But I also do it so I can learn about and identify with others who might not have received such blessings.
So once or twice a month I abandon the comfy confines of my car and take the bus.
During my most recent escapade, the thing that struck me was the number of people I met who were out of work.
First there was the young man kicked out of his house when he was 16 who achieved his GED certificate while homeless, and who has been trying for the last year to find a job. He can’t even get work at a fast food restaurant because he is constantly edged out by college-educated, former professionals who have been laid off.
Then there was the correctional institute guard who was laid off after almost 20 years because of budget cuts. He is struggling to keep his family of five together and finds himself having to ask his teenaged kids who are lucky enough to have a job to help pay the bills. It’s beyond demoralizing for him.
And then there was the laid-off teacher who has stopped looking for a job after three years. At first I couldn’t decide whether to be mad at him for giving up or sad that he had lost all hope.
Actually I realized very quickly that I am mad and sad — at the fact that our official unemployment rate is still hovering around 8 percent. The percentage of people either unemployed or underemployed is around 16 percent. Replace the percent with people and that means somewhere between 10-20 million are living the kinds of tragedies that I learned of on the bus that day.
As our politicians debate the issue, and we debate which of them will best act to stop it, we must help alleviate this great wrong with our own actions. Joblessness is not just an economic problem, it is one of our greatest spiritual threats.
The need to live and reap the rewards of work by the “sweat of our face” is one of the foremost imperatives in the Bible. God worked for six days to make the heavens and the earth, and in doing so He set the example. Work is that which allows us not just to support ourselves but to see the value of our contribution to the world, just as God saw the value of His.
When we are unemployed, the economic hardship is just the beginning of our pain as we feel our overall value and worth disappear. We stop seeing the beauty of our contribution. And soon we stop seeing our beauty altogether. Such a state of spiritual despair often brings other desperate acts to bear as well.
If you are one of those souls struggling to find a job, or one who has given up, do not despair. Your job loss is just a step on the road to finding your true purpose and what God intends for you.
And take heart in knowing that all in your Catholic community are with you, we are rooting for you, and we will do all we can to help you. Reach out to us in any way you can through friends, neighbors, Church or social service organizations.
St Joseph the Worker, for instance, works tirelessly to find jobs for those who cannot. Over the last year they found 577 jobs for low-income individuals. But that didn’t happen magically; it took the hard work and devotion of not just the incredible staff but 2,500 hours of volunteer assistance and a whole lot of donations.
Organizations like St. Joseph the Worker need our help. We can help by opening up our hearts and our ears. Do you know someone in the community who needs a job? Give them the benefit of your compassion, but also your ideas and support. Maybe they need help with a résumé, some advice, or maybe you know someone who could offer them a job.
This is not just their problem; it’s all of ours. Together we can solve it.