Bl. Mother Teresa told this story when she received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1979:
I had the most extraordinary experience with a Hindu family who had eight children. A gentleman came to our house and said: Mother Teresa, there is a family with eight children, they had not eaten for so long – do something. So I took some rice and I went there immediately. And I saw the children – their eyes shinning with hunger – I don’t know if you have ever seen hunger. But I have seen it very often. And she took the rice, she divided the rice, and she went out. When she came back I asked her – where did you go, what did you do? And she gave me a very simple answer: They are hungry also. What struck me most was that she knew – and who are they, a Muslim family – and she knew. I didn’t bring more rice that evening because I wanted them to enjoy the joy of sharing. But there were those children, radiating joy, sharing the joy with their mother because she had the love to give. And you see this is where love begins – at home.
I think of this as I reflect on Simcha Fisher’s article at Aletia, Poor Family! Dear Synod Fathers, the Faithful Sheep Are Suffering, Too. In it, she covers a lot of ground on behalf of the suffering faithful who, obedient though they are, never escape the various crosses that come for us all.
“Last week, I shared “Married to an Angry Man, an open letter to the Synod Fathers, a guest post by Monica More (a pseudonym). Monica does not want an annulment, easy or otherwise. She just wants someone with authority to tell her angry husband that it’s a serious sin to scream and curse at her, to belittle her, to allow his rage at the world to explode inside the walls of their Catholic home.”
“Then I got an avalanche of letters from women who are living Monica’s life. They aren’t trapped in some irregular marital situation. They’re just brokenhearted. They want someone to acknowledge that conventional, domestic sins can devastate a family. They want someone to hear their sorrow. Poor families! We can become so caught up in the great cultural and spiritual wars of our era — wars that swirl around avant-garde sins begging for extravagant mercy — that we forget the family back home, the poor family, the ones we’re defending when we go out to fight.
We live among tribes that fight viciously for our attention. Every day there’s another story about how society is so much closer to its collapse, and it’s all those people’s fault; or how the other side will finally be destroyed by some new artifact of the news cycle. The Culture War divides everything up into mutually exclusive sides and constantly demands support in the form of collective outrage.
But while we stare at the television and shake our heads, we are hungry, and our neighbors are hungry. I know this because I’ve been hungry, and I’ve lived with and befriended people who are hungry for understanding, to be known, cared about, affirmed that they are good and worth something. People are hungry for someone to treat them like human beings – whether it means visiting them when they’re in a community home, or talking about the Cowboys and having a beer.
Some people are basically okay, but they’re lonely. Some people are worried about their finances or their children. Others are miserable because their spouse makes life entirely too painful to bear, and refuses to change. So many suffer quietly, without the bonds of family and community to help ease the weight of their cross.
Why? Why is it that a Hindu woman in India can carry some of her first meal in much too long to her Muslim neighbor, while so many families in the U.S. languish in isolated misery? “What struck me most was that she knew,” Mother Teresa said. “[A]nd who are they, a Muslim family – and she knew.”
Perhaps it was because the Hindu woman had fewer distractions in her life. I’m utterly convinced that the Culture Wars are soul-sucking. There are real concerns to have, yes, but when Catholics allow ourselves to be blown about by every gust of manufactured outrage that TV’s talking heads bellow about, we’re submitting to the utter distraction of toxic windbaggery that God is not in.
It’s time to go where politicos dare not tread: the heart of the world in our neighborhood block and the withered branches of our family trees – without an ideological agenda. It’s time to beat our culture war swords into plowshares. Do you know what your neighbors need? If not, try finding out over a barbecue. Or maybe just take a plate of food over because you made too much for your household. Be creative, but not fancy. Be patient and good-natured, forgiving and considerate. If your neighbors are pretty much fine and don’t really need your help, great! Be friendly anyway. It’s not likely they’ll come asking for help when they need it if they don’t know you, and vice versa.
Whether you’re a liberal or conservative, or neither, know that God smiles about this sort of thing. Jesus likes it. Know that this helps bring about the Kingdom of God in the ruinous City of Man, and stores treasure on Earth as it is in Heaven.