A few mornings ago my wife and I were admiring the activity outside our kitchen window. It was a lovely winter scene. In a snowy background an assortment of birds were feasting on the safflower seeds which frequently fill their feeders. We were mesmerized by the variety of these winged guests – the blue jays, morning doves, mocking birds, woodpeckers, nuthatches, and finches – who in exchange for a full and regularly supplied breakfast seemed willing to treat us to a dazzling display of avian aerobatics. It was the brilliant crimson of the cardinals though that stirred our greatest wonder. Why has Nature bestowed on these particular creatures such intense color? For that matter why does Nature regale us with color itself in all its enticing hues and shades? More broadly: why is Nature so multifarious?
It has always struck me as odd that non-religious folk assume that their religious neighbors lead lives restricted by some narrow focus which constrains their ability to appreciate the limitless bounty of life – whether experienced through the five senses, in the mind or in the heart. A religion whose foundational documents declare that God created the world and saw that it was good and then dignified humanity by becoming one of us surely is a religion that not only permits but promotes, indeed requires, the fullest possible enjoyment of creation, a fundamental mark of which is its variety. (Not an inappropriate thought as we celebrated Mardi Gras 2013).
This is not an alien concept for Catholics. The word ‘Catholic’ after all means not just universal but also inclusive. It assumes variety and diversity.
As the National Catholic Community Foundation enters this new year, its fifteenth, I am struck by the variety of organizations and causes our donors, inspired by their religious faith, have supported. Readers may recall that our board of trustees will honor any request by a donor to contribute to any organization as long as the latter is legal and is not involved in activities that contravene the teachings of the Church. Any organization that recognizes and promotes human dignity, the Imago Dei in each of us, is one which reflects the Gospel message. At NCCF we like to say that before Vatican II nothing was ‘Catholic’ unless it was; whereas today after Vatican II everything is ‘Catholic’ unless it isn’t.
A review of our grant activity these past 15 years attests to this broader embrace of Catholic philanthropy. In that time the trustees in response to requests from our donors have made over 900 grants totaling almost $9 million to over 250 charities. The list is alphabetized and not surprisingly many of the entries beginning with ‘S’ are schools and parishes whose names contain the word ‘Saint.’ For me what is intriguing is the variety of the other organizations on the list and what their variety signifies about our donors and the breadth of their response to the faith. Consider just these few examples that follow of organizations our community of donors has supported and ask yourself, as I do, what in his or her faith has prompted Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. Donor to contribute to this particular group or cause. Perhaps you will be impressed, as am I, by how our shared faith expresses itself in such richly variegated Catholic philanthropy. Here are some examples:
Amnesty International, Antilles Episcopal Conference, Asian Apostolate for Refugees. Birthright of Delaware, Boston College Institute of Religious Education, Cappella Oratorianum (Sacred Music), Catholic Leadership Institute, CIDECO El Salvador, Coral Relief Alliance, Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy, Eastern Shore Chamber Music, Festival Friends of the Pontifical Irish College, Heart of Camden, Hope for Haiti, Kimmel Cancer Center, Ethiopian Relief, Mayan Indian Missions, Chesapeake Film Festival, Music Center for the Performing Arts, Navy Seal Museum, the Archdiocese of the Military, Sovereign Order of Malta, the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas (Rome). Ukrainian Catholic Education Foundation, the Witherspoon Institute, Wordnet Inc. There are many more.
If, as we have been taught, the advance of the Kingdom is on a straight and narrow route, let us give thanks for its spectacular scenery.