August 11, 2014

Be a saint, change the world

By Daniel McGiffin *

“Today it is very fashionable to talk about the poor. Unfortunately it is very unfashionable to talk with them.” Mother Teresa’s words hit home with a lot of us, don’t they? Taking care of the poor can’t just be about politics, programs, or platforms. It has to be a way of life.

In his new book, Saints and Social Justice: A Guide to Changing the World (Our Sunday Visitor, Amazon), Brandon Vogt, a young convert to Catholicism, intends to set the record straight on Catholic social teaching, rescuing the term common misuse and misunderstanding.

This young husband and father, who works as the social media content creator for Word on Fire (a Catholic communications apostolate) reclaims Catholic social teaching by telling stories of people who inspire us to love others with the self-giving love of the Gospel.

Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati was born in 1901, and for his 24 years on this earth, he “lived a dynamic and active life, climbing large mountains, protesting in the streets, and partying with friends.” Small wonder, then, that he’s become a favorite among young men of the 20th and 21st centuries, including Pope John Paul II. More than this, though, Vogt cites his “spiritual maturity” and how he “fused faith with charity, contemplation with activism, personal care with institutional reform, and boundless joy with the grit of service” as the inspiration for the whole Saints & Social Justice project in the first place.

Born to rich parents, Frassati chose to spend most of his time with the poor, literally giving them the coat off his back when it was cold. When asked by his friends why he did it, his answer was simple and devout: “Jesus comes to me every morning in Communion, and I return the visit by going to serve the poor.”

Vogt’s presents Frassati as a young man whose generosity and joy of spirit were so bound up in his prayer life that it was impossible to separate out his charity from his spirituality. As Vogt explains, “[w]ithout a spiritual grounding, charity becomes indistinguishable from mere philanthropy or generic kindness.”

Instead of telling us what authentic Catholic charity is, Vogt shows us, and that’s the power of his book. Through the lives of fourteen saints, Vogt shows us what it means to see Christ in every beggar.

Mother Teresa counted out the Gospel on her fingers. “You-did-it-to-me.” Every person who crossed her path was another opportunity for love. As she put it herself: “I can only love one person at a time — just one, one, one…. I began — I picked up one person. Maybe if I didn’t pick up that one person, I wouldn’t have picked up forty-two thousand….” And she challenges us, “The same thing goes for you, the same thing in your family, the same thing in your church, your community. Just begin — one, one, one.”

Vogt doesn’t neglect the lesser-known but no less heroic saints such as Anne Marie Javouhey, who dedicated her life to “enabling others to shape their own destinies,” educating and equipping former slaves after the French Revolution, never wanting them to fall victim to any kind of slavery. Or St. Frances of Rome, who shows us that “holiness begins with the family,” and far from despairing in the face of Job-like tragedy, found God in caring for her war-torn and plague-ridden community.

This guide to changing the world is about the extraordinary possibilities for our lives. Being saintly is a way of life that starts by reaching out to another person. “Just begin – one, one, one.”

Vogt weaves his portraits into a full picture of what just social justice is, as understood through the Gospel and the official documents of Catholic Church teaching. He “re-introduce[s] this body of wisdom to a world that has forgotten, misunderstood, or ignored it.” In Saints of Social Justice, he repeats the recently canonized John Paul II’s bold call on his return home to Poland in 1979 to “be not afraid.” Each man and woman he introduces shows us how.

Appropriately, all proceeds from the book are going to the work of Catholic Charities.

Daniel McGiffin works for Catholic Voices USA. A graduate from Notre Dame, he lives in Virginia with his wife and two young sons.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.


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