"only words"?

Another wrenching experience last night when a guy showed up at midnight, drunk, having been kicked out of both the men's shelters, afraid of freezing to death in the snow. I listened for a while and then gave him the blankets he asked for, but didn't feel I could let him sleep inside with all the women here. (I saw him again this morning, so I know he survived, but I was worried last night.) Again I am crushed by the inadequacy of the material help we can offer. I know Dorothy Day also complained of this, how wretched it often seemed to her. I'm being pummeled relentlessly with it right now...

One reason I came here to the Catholic Worker was because I saw the danger of our faith, and the spiritual help we offer, being "only words." Material help like we do here seemed much more real. I was very aware of passages like this one:

If any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or speech but in deed and in truth. (1 Jn 4.17-18)
And I think there still is an important point here about not letting our words be hypocritical. If we say we care, we should share anything we have to give.

But this should not be taken to mean that material help is "more real" than words in all cases. It should not make us devote ourselves to material things first, saving the spiritual for later, when the person's life is in order. For many people, this point may never be reached. And this certainly is not the way Jesus acted. He preached to the people first, then fed them; he forgave the paralytic's sins first, then healed him. It was clear what was of first importance with Jesus.

And what of Jesus' many words? Looking at the passage quoted yesterday, we see how Jesus saw his own mission: "to preach good news," "to proclaim release." Words. And this is what he did, not physically opening jails or throwing off oppressors, but announcing freedom. Even his healings came, not through physical skill or work, but through the healing word.

So I think I need to get rid of this idea that material helping is more real. Our words can certainly be hypocritical or false, and our deeds can reveal this, but that doesn't mean our physical abilities or work are more important than our words. Actually, I think those actions only have ultimate value if they are means of communicating, like words. Jesus himself, in all parts of his life, became the living Word.

And for the anawim, the poor, the powerless, who don't have much of material value to offer, isn't it important to see the value of their words? They can still communicate the word of God.

What is to be avoided is hypocritical words, false words, empty words. Jesus' words were true, and they carried the power of God. As Paul wrote to the Corinthians: "For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power." (1 Cor 4.20) But this power is not the power of wealth or organizations. It is the power of God that is "made perfect through weakness," the power working through his Word.