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What Can One Person Do? PDF Print E-mail
Written by Sherry   
Monday, 01 October 2007 06:45
I love this.

The story (via the New York Times) of the obscure mid-level government official (Eduardo Arias) in Panama who read a label on a toothpaste container last May and then patiently spent a day off walking (he doesn't own a car) from health department to health department attempting to report that the toothpaste contained poison.

And in so doing set off a hunt for poisoned toothpaste that reverberated across 6 continents, reached all the way to China and saved who knows how many lives.

Fr. Michael Sweeney (my former partner in crime before Mr. Mike joined us) told me of once witnessing this exchange between a young college student and Dorothy Day. The young woman asked Dorothy "but what can one person do?". To which Day responded with some asperity:

"What is it that you lack? You are young, free, educated, healthy. Just what is it that you lack?

I've talked to so many western Christians who feel helpless to make a difference outside their own little circle. We are the freeist, wealthiest, most privileged people with access to the most remarkable technology in a globalized world and we are still asking "What can one person do?"

Sometimes this question can just be a way to blow off our larger responsibilities as lay apostles. But sometimes, it is because we truly believe that we are powerless because we have only heard the stories of people who do small things with small impact. That being obscure is the same thing as being powerless.

In fact, I've noticed that Catholics sometimes prefer the stories of small things. I recently overheard a man observe that he was uncomfortable with the stories of creative lay apostles being featured every week in his parish's bulletin. Stories of ordinary Catholics engaged in prison ministry or going on short term mission trips or working in creative ways with the homeless or unemployed. Why can't they talk about things that most Catholic can identify with, he asked, like smiling at someone or maybe bringing them a casserole?

Because my friend, we can smile at someone and tackle the transformation of human structures and cultures. We can do small things with great love and large things with great love at the same time. Indeed, you can't do large things with great fruitfulness unless you attend to the small things as well.

Because we are exceptionally privileged lay apostles called by Christ, as part of the overall mission of evangelization, to transform the cultures and structures of the world so that they nourish all that is fully human.

Because "a little butterfly in Panama beat her wings and created a storm in China.”

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