A month and a half ago I posted on Steve Bigari (link in the title of this blog), the former owner of fourteen McDonald's franchises and the founder of the America's Family Program. America's Family focuses on bringing together employers, workforce centers, and community agencies, including community colleges, to provide six major benefits to stabilize the shaky critical life needs of entry-level workers and their families– health care, child care, transportation, housing, communication, and education – benefits not usually associated with “fast food” jobs in Colorado. At this time, over 25,000 low income service workers benefit from participating in the program.
Mr. Bigari was quoted in an article in the local Colorado Springs paper as saying, "This (America's Family) is not a job. It's a mission."
It sounds like Mr. Bigari has responded to a call from God. He literally "sold everything" (at least he sold his source of income, the fourteen franchises) to follow Jesus. His discipleship didn't lead him out of the world, but more deeply into it; into the lives of the working poor whom he encountered as employees, but began to see as fellow children of God.
I bring up Mr. Bigari again because today we celebrate Blessed Frederick Ozanam (1813-1853). In 1831, while studying law at the University of the Sorbonne, certain professors there mocked Catholic teachings in their lectures (something which still happens today, sadly). Frederick defended the Church.
While in college, Frederick organized a discussion club. In this club Catholics, atheists and agnostics debated the issues of the day. He was obviously unafraid to encounter people who did not share his beliefs; doing so allowed him to better understand their positions, and made him more aware of their critiques of his own. The freedom to engage people so different from himself had a life-changing effect. Once, after Frederick spoke on Christianity’s role in civilization, a club member said: "Let us be frank, Mr. Ozanam; let us also be very particular. What do you do besides talk to prove the faith you claim is in you?"
It's a question that all of us who claim to believe in Christ need to be asked - and must answer.
Frederick was stung by the question. He soon decided that his words needed a grounding in action. He and a friend began visiting Paris tenements and offering assistance as best they could. Soon a group dedicated to helping individuals in need under the patronage of St. Vincent de Paul formed around Frederick.
This is an example of Christian freedom; the ability to look courageously at the world around us and ask, "What needs to change in order for people to live in dignity?" Frederick Ozanam and Steve Bigari found their lives moving in a different direction because of that question.
Both men began living with a deeper purpose. God blessed the work of Blessed Frederick Ozanam. Within ten years there were 25 St. Vincent de Paul conferences. When the revolution of 1848 left 275,000 people unemployed, the French government asked Frederick and the St. Vincent de Paul Society to supervise the government's aid to the poor, so effective were the conferences!
One of the greatest struggles Catholics seem to have these days is trusting a call from God, and many of us don't believe we even have such a call. But if we are willing to look at the world around us, recognize what human needs seem to move our hearts, discern our spiritual gifts given to us by God at baptism, and take the first step in responding to those needs, we might be surprised at what God chooses to do through us.
We are called to change the temporal order by Christ and His Church. That's living royally!