We are in hard times. All around us, we have the numbers to prove it. Last month, our government reported that more than 46 million Americans, about 15 percent of our neighbors, are living in poverty. The percentage here in California is higher — more than 16 percent. Here in Los Angeles County it is higher still. One in six of our brothers and sisters is officially “poor.” Every one of these “numbers” is a person, a child of God who was created for a purpose in God’s plan. So it is sad and worrying to see so many without work, or without enough work to be employed all the time, or unable to earn enough to pay their bills. These hard times have exposed deep problems with our economic system and also with our government’s approaches to economic matters at all levels — federal, state and local. We see now very real signs in our society of a permanent “underclass,” a kind of “culture of poverty” that continues through generations in the same families and communities. Also, more and more we are seeing signals that the gap between the earnings of the wealthiest Americans and the rest of the population is getting much wider. An article about that last month in the magazine, The Atlantic, is getting a lot of attention. The title is provocative but it raises the question that’s on everyone’s minds these days: “Can the Middle Class be Saved?” It is a thoughtful article and worth studying. But I would pose the question about our present economic situation in different terms. The question for me is: What are we going to do — as individuals, as citizens, as Catholics, and as a Church?

So much of what we do as individuals seems so small. Yet Jesus multiplies our little acts of love, so they have ripple effects that we often cannot see.

Each of us in this crisis can do a lot of good if we try to concern ourselves more with helping family members and neighbors who are in need. We may not have money to give. But we have other gifts to offer. We have the gift of time. Maybe we can offer to watch each other’s kids or share meals together. Or help with car-pooling or chores that need to be done in our homes. I would love to see every Catholic in our great Archdiocese find time to volunteer in our community and Church agencies — where so much of the direct service to the poor and vulnerable takes place. Especially if you have a professional skill to offer, you can do so much through the gift of your time and talent. Our Church charities are forced to face growing need with declining resources. So we need to intensify our prayer and our focus on Jesus Christ. We need to say with St. Paul: “For the love of Christ impels us!” So much of what we do as individuals seems so small. Yet Jesus multiplies our little acts of love, so they have ripple effects that we often cannot see. We need to pray to have more faith in the power of Christian love! And as our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI reminds us, if we really love someone, we want justice for that person. “Justice,” he says, “is the primary way of charity.” Justice in these hard times means making sure that people have what they need for a dignified life. All of us need to be involved in the political conversation that is going on about the way forward for our economy and government. Much of our debate today is about the size and scope of government. This is a good debate. But we also need to strengthen government to serve its true purposes. We can agree that government is too big. There is a lot of waste and too many programs that either no one needs or that the private sector can do better. But government has a vital role to play — helping the poor and those who fall between the cracks; helping those who are too sick to work or pay their bills; protecting workers’ rights. These are the things government should be doing. It is up to us, impelled by the love of Christ, to make sure government lives up to its obligations to the least of our brothers and sisters. Let’s pray for one another this week. And let’s pray for those who need work and communities that are hurting. Let’s pray for our leaders in government and business. And let’s ask Our Lady of Guadalupe to help us find the courage to a build a world where everyone is able to share their gifts and talents for the glory of God and the service of their neighbors. Follow Archbishop Gomez at: www.facebook.com/ArchbishopGomez .

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