My husband and I have been sponsoring a little girl in El Salvador through Unbound for a few years now. The experience has been enriching beyond what we ever imagined. Allow me to make a few remarks why I believe participating in sponsorship is so worthwhile not only personally, but also spiritually. It is a path, I have discovered, to living and witnessing the magnificent beauty of our Catholic Faith in a very special way.
We live in such abundance of wealth; even the poor in our country as a rule do not lack indoor plumbing and electricity in their homes. They have refrigerators, washing machines, color TVs, and air-conditioning. Compared to the poor in developing countries they are materially rich. It is hard to fathom for us what it is like to live in a hut with dirt floors and sharing the cramped quarters with a multitude of family members without all these amenities. Yet this is the reality for millions around the globe.
When confronted with these realities we often react with guilt, even shame. The guilt can conjure up pitiful images from TV advertisements targeted to prey upon the collective self-reproach of the audience. We also find such dishonest implications within our own faith communities sometimes when we are being “shamed” in an underhanded fashion that we all should give up our possessions and live like paupers. Such guilt and shame, of course, are false. They are false because we have had no influence over the accident of our birth or the very real circumstances of our daily lives in caring for our families and loved-ones, having to make a living, saving for college and retirement. No matter where God has put us geographically, we are all made in his image.
All Christians, regardless of economic circumstance, are called to make careful examination of our needs and wants and share our abundance with those less fortunate. Paradoxically despite our wealth this is not easy for us, for we are all influenced by the overpowering materialism in our culture. The historian Richard Weaver once stated that “one of the strangest disparities of history lies between the sense of abundance felt by older simpler societies and the sense of scarcity felt by the ostensibly rich societies of today…” In other words, today we are so conditioned by “never having enough” we are no longer in touch of what our real needs truly are and have made our ever-growing list of wants “necessities.”
Fortunately for us our faith shows us a way out of this materialist trap: detachment. Fr. Robert Barron illustrates it in the following way, We know that we need God, but we try to fill the void with something less than God…It is only the emptying out of the ego in love that paradoxically fills us up. Only when we detach ourselves from the addiction to material things [will we] be able to use them with great effectiveness for God’s purposes. And the beauty is that once in our faith journey we have reached a measure of detachment from worldly and finite goods do we begin to share our abundance cheerfully and reap unexpected spiritual riches.
To me one of the most surprising spiritual fruits of sponsorship through Unbound has been precisely this greater detachment from worldly goods. Through the letters we exchange with our sponsored friend we get to know her life and the life of her family. The simple joys she shares are in stark contrast to the ridiculous madness of the complicated lives we live in our culture. In her innocence she is demonstrating to me that less is so much more and ultimately so much more rewarding. The witness of their lives show me how grateful they are for each of the gifts God has given them. They count our sponsorship as one of those gifts and little Maria Gissele prays each night for us! Her prayers for us have the power of bringing tears to my eyes in speechless gratitude whenever I think of it. I can only imagine the multitude of blessings God has worked in our lives because of her prayers. Of course we pray for her and her family too, but there is no ignoring the fact that we are giving from our material abundance which isn’t even a pinch in my budget! And she in return gives us spiritual riches. Which makes me realize something quite startling: we are the ones who are being sponsored spiritually; we are the ones who receive the greater gift!
How magnificent God’s ways are in leading us out of our respective poverties.
There is one crucial aspect of Unbound I would like to call attention to by way of something Pope Benedict XVI once said in a homily regarding economic aid:
A Bishop from the Congo on an ad limina visit in these days said to me: Europeans generously give us many things for development, but there is a hesitation in helping us in pastoral ministry; it seems as though they considered pastoral ministry useless, that only technological and material development were important. But the contrary is true, he said; where the Word of God does not exist, development fails to function and has no positive results. Only if God’s Word is put first, only if man is reconciled with God, can material things also go smoothly.
It is here where Unbound gets it exactly right. Deeply rooted and carried out in the beauty of Catholic Social Teaching each person’s innate dignity is recognized and honored thereby nourishing both body and soul – as it always should be.
God made each and every person on this planet in his image. In the Eucharist Christ makes us One Body. In Friendship the Holy Spirit connects one human heart to another. When we open our hearts and embrace these Trinitarian graces we allow ourselves to experience unexpected gifts of Divine Love far beyond the effort it takes – please sponsor a child, elder or young adult through Unbound.
Learn more at the Unbound website: www.unbound.org.