Changing the World One Small Step at a Time

“Sharing the Tradition, Shaping the Future” is a 2001 publication put out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. Designed to be used by small faith-sharing groups over the course of seven weeks, the introduction states that the group “can explore how these basic [Catholic social] teachings affect our individual lives. With the Holy Spirit as a guide, the group can come to new understandings about how to further the work of the reign of God. . . The work of social justice is not the work of a few ‘experts.’ It should affect the lives of all.” The Bible Study I belong to is currently making its way through this text.

The text is good. It is all based in scripture. It offers much food for thought on social responsibility and on how we treat those we perceive as different or less fortunate than ourselves. The challenge comes in with the “suggested actions” at the conclusion of each chapter. The actions are all extremely time consuming. For example, week one suggests “Join your parish social action committee. If your parish doesn’t have one, start one.” Week three offers the following: “If your community has a project to build or repair low-cost housing for the poor, volunteer some of your time. If it does not, find out how you can initiate such a project or a similar project.” All of us in this Bible Study are homeschooling moms. Many of us also work outside the home in some capacity. There are only so many hours in one day. Even a single person would be hard-pressed to complete more than one of these projects, never mind one each week!

Looking at the world’s problems, we can easily become discouraged. After all, they seem so big, and each of us has limited resources. Faced with suggestions like those in this book, one’s discouragement only increases. I do believe that community service is extremely important. Each one of us is called to reach out beyond our own families and friends into the world at large. Different stages of life call for different forms of community service, however. Yes, there are moms who manage (somehow) to make huge contributions to the world while successfully raising their children. Perhaps God called them to this special form of service. Most of us, however, are called to minister in smaller, if not less important, ways.

Mother Teresa offers great encouragement to those of us who find our lives centered mostly on our families. She stated that one of the most important things is for us “to do small things with great love.” Each one of us is capable of that. We can make a difference in small ways, beginning with our families, our friends, our neighbors, and the communities we live in. We can treat people with respect and kindness, give charitably what we can, share what we own, and extend hospitality to others. We can volunteer where and how we are able. We can trust in the ripple effect, that each act of kindness will lead to others. We can (and should) do what we can and trust that God will do the rest.

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