At Catholic Charities we spend a great deal of time talking about the poorest of the poor. We talk about those who are homeless, those who are alone, those who are abandoned. We talk about those who live invisible lives and those who live on the fringes of day to day survival. We talk about the “uns,” as I refer to them in my talks. The unseen, the unheard, the unfed, the unhoused, the unhealthy, the undocumented, and the uncared for. These are the most vulnerable, most at-risk, and most fragile among us. Certainly they are a significant focus of what we do at Catholic Charities, 365 days a year.
But we don’t seem to talk as much about the next group on the socio-economic ladder. Sometimes we call them “the working poor” or “low-income-stabilized.” These people may once have been an “un” of some kind, but at some point, maybe with some help, maybe by the power of their own sheer will, they pulled themselves up just a little bit…just enough.
These are the folks who fight the hard fight and are trying to do things right. They get a job; sometimes two or three jobs at once. They don’t spend money on frivolous things. They scrimp, save, and pay their rent on time, but still struggle to put healthy food on the table for their children. They find a way to get by and survive unexpected events and expenses. But they struggle. They struggle to keep the heat on and the utilities paid. They borrow toilet paper from their jobs and make regular trips to the food bank and hope their neighbors don’t notice. They struggle to buy groceries at the end of the month, and they struggle to buy their kids new clothes or school supplies. They just barely keep themselves from being one of the poorest of the poor on the streets and feel trapped in the cycle of working themselves to the bone while teetering on the edge of disaster.
These may be the people who pass our food to us from drive-thru windows. They make our coffee, do our nails, wait on our tables, or clean our offices, hotel rooms, and school bathrooms. These people are doing the things we tell our kids to do when they grow up…work hard, never give up, solve your own problems, and take care of yourself. They are doing these things, and yet they suffer. Worst of all, they live under the constant threat that if just one thing goes wrong, they could end up in crisis. That constant stress is their reward for doing the right things.
Recently, Pope Francis addressed a group of young people in Guidonia, a small village near Rome. He told them, “If I say I am Catholic and go to Mass, but then don’t speak with my parents, help my grandparents or the poor, go and see those who are sick, this does not prove my faith, there’s no point. Those who do this are nothing but Christian parrots – words, words, words.”
Let us not be parrots! Let us remember the poorest of the poor, the homeless and hungry. Let us also remember the working poor and the disappearing middle class — all of the men, women, children and seniors who struggle to get by on their own even though they are trying their best. Let us honor them. Let us be ready to serve and stand with them in their struggle.
President & CEO
Catholic Charities Spokane
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