Isn't it striking how much we need each other? We may feel like we are independent, and there is something of the "rugged individualist" that plagues our American psyche and culture. But the truth is that no one can live well independently of others. We are inter-dependent beings.
We are fundamentally social beings, and as Catholics we even affirm that we believe that it is precisely God's plan for us - that even from Genesis we learn that it is "not good" to be alone. Our interdependence and reliance on one another should be celebrated, and looked upon as something good, as something to be cherished.
How many examples we have from this past winter of neighbors helping each other dig out from the snow, of family members pitching in at the last moment to help when schools were closed - it sometimes seems that crises and challenging times bring out the best in people's care for each other. That attitude of reaching out to others, to care for them simply because they are human beings with an infinite value and dignity of their own regardless of their circumstances or characteristics, that is a prime example of how interdependent we are.
Catholic teaching has a name for that perspective - solidarity. As St. John Paul II put it, solidarity is "not a feeling of vague compassion or shallow distress at the misfortunes of so many people, both near and far. On the contrary, it is a firm and persevering determination to commit oneself to the common good; that is to say to the good of all and of each individual, because we are all really responsible for all."
Solidarity demands that each person be treated with dignity and respect. Solidarity demands that we see people all across the world as our brothers and sisters. Solidarity demands that all people have a right to food and drinkable water, to housing, to security, to self-determination, to family life and to independence.
All of this is important to reflect upon during this season of Lent. As we continue to observe the three Lenten practices of prayer, fasting and almsgiving, it might inform our Lenten spirituality to understand almsgiving as an opportunity to enhance our own participation in solidarity.
Almsgiving should be more than just the monetary contributions that we make to help those less fortunate, especially through Catholic Charities during the appeal each Lent. As essential as those contributions are - and they are essential - we also have the possibility of making contact with others, to have a personal experience of meeting and talking to others in need. Each of us is called to connect with others on an interpersonal level.
Almsgiving requires of us not only our funds, but our friendship. Any opportunity and contact we make with others, whether it is distributing food in a pantry, or serving a meal in a soup kitchen, or helping someone fill out forms for assistance, helps us to understand that they are not just nameless and faceless "poor," but are people with dignity and value.
Almsgiving affords all of us this Lent to strengthen our solidarity with each other. Pope Francis has said, "We all have a responsibility to act so that the world may be a community of brothers and sisters who respect each other, who accept their diversity and who take care of one another."
This Lent, let's take a step closer to the goal of true solidarity around the world.
Deacon Don Weigel is the associate public policy coordinator at Catholic Charities of Buffalo and is a Global Fellow with Catholic Relief Services. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.