The discussion over faith and good works has been going on for centuries: Is faith alone enough for salvation, or is it necessary to engage in good works as well? The Catholic understanding is that faith and good works go hand in hand — an understanding based in Scripture.
Followers of Jesus as well as the skeptics of his time were told that in the end, God would look with favor upon those who fed the hungry, clothed the naked, gave drink to the thirsty, visited prisoners, welcomed strangers and cared for the sick. Furthermore, those who failed to do these things would “suffer eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46).
Taking care of the poor, the sick and anyone in need is a recurring message in all the Gospels and the message most often heard from Pope Francis. It’s a challenging message that in modern times has been ignored too often in favor of the importance of the “bottom line” — the primacy of profit at the expense of human dignity.
The past few years have given me the opportunity to experience directly the work of many groups who have taken the Gospel message of taking care of those in need as their mission. I am always amazed at the work they do and the outcomes they produce.
Children are given after-school care and homework help. Families are fed week after week, hospital patients have their fears eased as they wait in the ER, and young men and women in jail can rely on visitors who will listen as they adjust to the harsh realities of incarceration.
Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles (Habitat LA) is one of these agencies. They envision a “world where everyone has a decent place to live.” Their mission is “to put God’s love into action by bringing people together to build homes, communities and hope.”
Habitat for Humanity, of which Habitat LA is a part of, is a nonprofit, non-denominational housing ministry dedicated to bringing people of all faiths together to build homes for families and individuals in need.
In the spirit of putting faith into action, the Habitat LA Catholic Coalition was created last summer to expand the Habitat LA partnership with Catholic parishes, organizations and schools. Eighteen parish communities in various areas of Los Angeles, Manhattan Beach, Long Beach, Redondo Beach and Santa Monica have raised $90,000 toward the $150,000 needed to complete the building of a home for the Rendon family: Maria, a teacher at a Catholic school in South Gate, Ricardo, a retired U.S. Navy veteran and their four children.
The Rendons have been living with Ricardo’s parents and brother in a very small house. They hoped, prayed and dreamed of a home of their own but simply did not have the money to make it happen.
Through the process required by Habitat LA the Rendon family agreed to 500 hours of “sweat equity” which means giving 500 hours in labor actually participating in the building of their house. In addition they agreed to partnership with Habitat LA that includes qualifying for and being willing to repay a no-profit, zero interest mortgage held by Habitat LA. The family is engaged in the entire process of building their home.
This is not a “giveaway” program. The expectation is that the potential homeowner will invest time and money into the building of their home along with Habitat and all the volunteers they recruit for the project.
In an era when the viability of the American Dream is in question, Habitat LA offers an opportunity to embrace a piece of the dream — home ownership. It also offers those of us who already own a home the chance to get involved on a number of levels to help others. Individuals, families and faith communities can partner with Habitat LA through volunteering “sweat hours,” building materials, and of course, donating money to fund the home building projects.
Local Catholic parishes are invited to formally partner with Habitat LA and be part of their on-going efforts. At a time when we read about young people moving away from the Church for various reasons, this coalition strikes me as a tangible way to invite them into the process of working with others to better lives.
It is a “put your money where your mouth is” way for a parish to give concrete example of how to live the Gospel message as it models putting faith into action.
For more information on the Habitat LA Catholic Coalition, contact Chris Untiet, (424) 246-3622 or Jesse Coronado, (310) 500-9425.