Sally Blount

We embrace the stories that don’t have tidy outcomes

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

At Catholic Charities, we love sharing stories of our success: the young single mother who secures safe housing for herself and her three small children; the lonely senior who finds not just a new apartment, but new friends and a supportive community; the mourning family, with no savings and a lot of debt, who is able to bury their beloved grandmother with dignity.

These stories of good news fuel us all because they are wonderful testaments to what can happen when we join in witness to our faith.

It is equally important to remember, though, that we also see countless stories every day that are not so easily told: the woman experiencing domestic violence who isn’t ready to leave; the veteran who stops by our employment services booth but never answers our follow-up calls; the migrant family who continues their journey, not yet trustful of their safety.

Just as much as we celebrate the happy stories, it’s also important that we recognize and tell the stories that are not so tidy. Because it is in these stories that we truly witness the courage and perseverance that the calling of compassion requires.

Courageous compassion demands that we welcome and serve all with open hearts and empathetic ears, with the understanding that even after our hard work (and your donations), we may not make a tangible difference. People’s circumstances may not be improved.

Dorothy Day wrote, “the Gospel takes away our right forever to discriminate between the deserving and the undeserving poor.” It also takes away our right to demand the results from serving that we want for them.

This is not to say that our services are delivered without the highest quality care, or without the fact-based expertise and faith-fueled hope that we will have an impact. Quite the opposite: Daily, we minister to people with the care of our best counselors and therapists, we fill grocery carts with healthy food, we make sure new mothers have the parenting support they need.

And still, despite our prayers, our hard-won experience and wisdom, and the dozens of hours and hundreds of dollars spent, there are no promises that we will get the outcome that we want, or that you want, for each of the people we serve.

In serving others, we must have the humility to remember that the ultimate outcomes are in Christ’s hands, not ours. Courageous compassion in answering his call means we serve without the expectation of a praiseworthy result or a feel-good story. We serve simply to witness — to witness our love for Christ and our neighbor.

At the motherhouse for the Missionaries of Charity, there is a poster that reads: “Remember that it is Christ who works through us — we are merely instruments for service. It is not how much we do, but how much love we put into the doing.”

As we serve and accompany those in need, it is important to remember: It is not about how much we do, or how many good stories we get to tell because of our good works. It is about having the courage to show up each day, ready and willing to love and to serve, even when things don’t go our way; even when we’re tired and disappointed, and the stories aren’t tidy.

That is courageous compassion and that is our calling at Catholic Charities. We are the arm of the church that opens our doors each morning with only one agenda: to accompany and serve the vulnerable, the hungry and the lonely.

We welcome you to join us; we welcome you into the messiness of service and love.



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