“All week I have been working as usual.”
How many people in America can say that right now?
And yet, that was the opening line of Brother Jim’s update email to me. I had been thinking about the poor community, how it usually seems a world away, but how now it is living a completely different reality than what the news is presenting about American life.
You see, you can only pause the world when you are living the middle to upper class socio-economic reality. In less stable environments, life continues with other struggles. In the poor communities of Chicago and across the world, people are still dying. They are still hungry. They are still living day to day and cannot hoard or stockpile for any potential threat. They have current threats to survive this very hour.
The support for these vulnerable communities is failing in times like these. Church doors have closed. Non-profits have ceased. Donations have stopped pouring in. In Chicago, volunteers aren’t showing up for the food pantry work because they are afraid. At the St. James food pantry, Brother Jim had to step in to fill the void. Why? “Because people still have to eat.”
I have been angry at some of our leaders of various community sectors for their inability to see these needs. Sure, they can close their doors and self-quarantine, but they are leaving behind problems that will lead to deaths in other ways, be it other illnesses, hunger, bankruptcy and eviction, mental health issues, or domestic abuse. When one domino falls in a poor person’s life, the world comes crumbling down much faster than a 2 week to 30-day quarantine. This population does not have the time to wait it out on their couches with their wine and Netflix and see if things get better in May.
In my own work supporting lay formation leaders within the Church, I have been blessed to see some creative lay leaders and their pastors respond to the nationwide absence of the Eucharist and creatively reach their flock. They have quickly adapted to using social media, they have collaborated across regions, and they have worked extra hours from desperate hot spots to get the job done. They have asked for help navigating these new ways of ministry and are doing wonderful things to bring communal prayer and continued education digitally. And yet other leaders have altogether disappeared.
While it makes sense to follow the advised health precautions, it does not relieve anyone of their duties to help others. When the light of faith is dropped by certain leaders, I am thankful for those who pick up the torch and march on, sometimes on their own.
I don’t think any one of these people see themselves as heroes. They love their work, they believe in their mission, and it is simply a reflex to find solutions no matter what is thrown their way. They don’t have time to be angry at anyone—they have a job to do.
What makes the difference between a coward and a hero? What paralyzes one person in fear and allows another to act with clarity toward a risky but desperate need?
Heroes were not made this week. They were made a long time ago. Heroes were made because someone authentically witnessed the Gospel to them, and it invaded every part of their life. They came to understand what it means to love their neighbor, to trust God, to be not afraid, and to forgive constantly, focusing instead on the love instead of the insult.
Brothers and Sisters of Love will never stop serving. Coming up soon, Brother Jim must find a way to hold a funeral while observing the mandate to gather with no more than 10 people. If you’re ever been to a funeral in the hood, you know that this pretty much tops the impossibility charts. The work may get creative in the next few weeks and months, but Brother Jim and the good heroes of this world will continue to navigate new obstacles and mandates. Because love always finds a way. And when it does, the Kingdom of God breaks into our midst, and the grace makes up for where any of us lack.
The Eucharist has been suspended but go in fearless love and authentically witness to the faith, so that others may still encounter the Body of Christ and we may continue to find the heroes that we need.