Welcome to Catholic Social Concern class. Your first assignment is as follows: Choose from the several listed charitable works shown below, and perform them over the course of the next week. Write a reflection paper at the end of the week on your reaction to the charitable works you performed as well as the reactions of those who you helped.

CHARITY IN ACTION

Ah, the merits of charitable works! The noble cause of helping others, of feeding the poor, clothing the naked, of bettering society itself! And to be assigned such tasks as a homework assignment right at mine own parochial Catholic school—how lucky I was to have such a progressive assignment! How great it would be to finally have that conversion experience which would allow me to become a productive member of Catholic society!

Well, I shall let the results speak for themselves.

DAY ONE

MISSION: Congratulate a classmate or teammate on a notable achievement.

RESULTS:

In philosophy class, I told a member of the school's It's Academic team, “You were awesome on It’s Academic.”

He said “Yeah”.

Awkward silence ensued for the next ten to twelve seconds.

Undeterred, I tried again later that day at crew. I said to one of my friends, “That was some nice rowing you did today.”

He said “Yeah.”

Awkward silence ensued for the next ten to twelve seconds.

CONCLUSION:

So congratulating people on their accomplishments leads only to awkward silences, apparently. I did not have a conversion experience.

DAY TWO

MISSION: Talk to your parents about their day. Ask them how their day went.

RESULTS:

At the end of school, I asked my dad, “Dad, how did your day go?”

He said “It was OK.”

I attempted to pursue the conversation further. “Did anything interesting happen?”

“Nope”

I tried again with Mom, hoping for better results. “Mom, how was your day?”

“Well, I got to work, and no one else was there, so me and two other people had to spend the whole day doing all the work because they were all sick with cancer or had depressed children committing suicide and I had to work the telephones for the whole day with unruly customers who did not understand that the line was only for emergencies and then all the MSDS forms were wrong so we had to do them all over and nothing made sense and so we...”

Her voice trailed off into the distance while my cognitive facilities tried to comprehend whatever she said. I did not understand a word of it, but I am sure it made some sort of sense to her, at least.

CONCLUSION:

Talking to your parents about their day either produces no results at all or causes massive information overload. I did not have a conversion experience.

DAY THREE

MISSION: Eat lunch with a lonely classmate.

RESULTS:

I entered the lunchroom and ordered my food. I scanned the room for some sign of a lonely classmate and found one. There was a girl sitting at the end of a table over in the corner. I sat down next to her.

My religion textbook told me to sit with you” I said matter-of-factly.

“Really?” she said.

“Yeah.”

“That’s weird”

“Quite.”

It was roughly at this point that my grand and total lack of any conventional social skills became extremely evident, and an awkward silence descended upon the table.

“So… why are you sitting here all by yourself?” I ventured.

“I’m just waiting for my boyfriend to show up- actually here he is now.”

A large football-playing type approached the table. He gave me a menacing glance which clearly implied that extremely unpleasant things would happen to me if I did not remove myself from the table posthaste. I was only too happy to comply. I returned to my normal table where my friends and I made jokes about communists for the rest of the period.

CONCLUSION:

Talking to lonely classmates is likely to get you placed in awkward situations and/or killed, especially if you are not good at meeting new people. I did not have a conversion experience.

DAY FOUR

MISSION: Help a younger brother or sister with their homework.

RESULTS:

My brother has been having quite some difficulty with homework and school for quite some time now, and this seemed like a fine opportunity to finally help him out with some. I approached him after school when he was on his computer playing an online game. “Do you need any help with your homework?” I asked him.

“No” he replied.

“But my religion textbook wants me to help you.” I argued.

“That’s its problem.”

“But if I don’t help you, my grade will suffer!” I exclaimed.

“Too bad” he replied.

“Surely you want some form of help? I have received high-school training in English, math, science, Spanish, Russian, and public speaking. Why not take advantage of my enlightened mind to help you excel academically?”

While I was giving him my verbal résumé, his character in whatever game he was playing died. He exclaimed a string of profanity of immense length and color that I have never heard before and sincerely hope to never hear again. He then blamed me for the incident and threw a textbook at me.

Clearly another strategy was needed. I retired to my room to think of how to convince my brother to allow me to assist in his academic career. I decided that perhaps if I approached him while he was actually doing homework, he might be more open to such gestures. I found him in the dining room doing what appeared to be Spanish homework. “Do you need any help?” I asked.

“Yes, what is the Spanish word for ‘guide’ as a verb when conjugated for the personal pronoun ‘yo’?”

Now, I haven’t taken Spanish in two years. I switched to Russian because it was far more relevant to my interests.

“Uhh…. ‘guido’?” I guessed.

“Right… I’ll take your word for it”

The next day I discovered to my horror that his Spanish teacher had e-mailed my parents to tell them that they shouldn’t let him watch so much Jersey Shore.

CONCLUSION:

Helping siblings with homework seems to have caused far more trouble than it averted. I did not have a conversion experience.

DAY FIVE

MISSION: Run an errand for an elderly neighbor.

RESULTS:

Clearly, my previous efforts at being charitable to my family and friends were not going to help me have a conversion experience. To actually have any effect, I would have to move outside of my comfort zone. Down the street from me lives an old man, Mr. Brook. He has lived in his house for as long as anyone can remember. He used to be a general in the army or the navy or on that car insurance commercial—no one is really sure. He was also the only readily available elderly person I knew. So I went down the street to his house. I knocked on the door. I could hear him coming down the stairs in his house, making a wide variety of loud thumping noises.

He yelled “Who is it? If you’re selling encyclopedias I don’t want any!” when he was about halfway down the steps. When he got to the door and opened it, I presented the basic concept to him.

“Hi Mr. Brook. My religion textbook told me to run an errand for an elderly neighbor so that I could practice charity in action. Is there anything I can do for you to make your life easier?”

“What?” he said. I repeated myself.

His face turned red.Confounded youngsters thinking us senior citizens can’t take care of ourselves no more!” he yelled. “I’ll tell you something you can do to make my life easier! You can get out of my house and go back to school and tell them folks there that we senior citizens ain’t so weak we can’t do things! Lemme tell you, I saved this country from the reds back in Nam more times than you been to the toilet, boy. You think I can’t take care of myself, like I’m some sort of poor confused senile old man that belongs in a retirement home? Well, this here senile old man values his independence, and doesn’t need your help!” He then tersely added “Good day!” as he slammed the door.

I stood there in silence for a moment, stunned by the epic rant that I had just witnessed. I decided then and there that Mr. Brook was one of the most amazing people I had met and that it was a shame that we were now on such bad terms all of the sudden. I walked home, trying to figure out how to rectify this situation.

CONCLUSION:

Senior citizens value their independence and quite a few don’t want other people’s help. I did not have a conversion experience.

CONCLUSION

Over the course of doing my charitable works, I created awkward silences, gave myself a migraine from listening to my mother’s run-on sentences, was almost killed, got my brother to be banned from watching MTV (actually that’s a good thing), and made an old man angry at me. I did not have the much-anticipated conversion experience which had been implied at the beginning of the assignment. However, I remain hopeful that future assignments of this nature will help me to achieve this goal in a timely and painless manner.

Young man, this reflection is wholly unacceptable and inappropriate for a Catholic school environment. Take it home and rewrite it in a more positive tone or you shall receive a detention and a grade of "0". Do not make me get your parents involved again.

It was a cold and very windy Saturday in suburban Washington, DC. My car was in the shop, and I was in a very nasty mood walking from the bus stop to my famous and historic church. I was in town for only one reason: I had agreed to help out with one of our best programs serving local, impoverished children.

I walked through the front part of the church yard, the wind blasting me from north to south. A woman of about 80 - just a wee bit older than me, and walking walking with a cane - was having a bit of trouble with the prevailing winds. I asked her if we could walk together into church, and held out my elbow . The wind blew us into the building as we discussed our different reasons for braving the cold and wind. Along the way, I passed a friend coming in for a different reason - she was going to make soups and stews for the local homeless shelter. She's a great cook, and she does this to unwind from the stress of the day job - serving as a district court judge.

I left the judge and the older parishioner, dashing upstairs to report for duty with the kids. They had too many volunteers; and trust me, I was f*cking annoyed that no one had called to say they didn't need my help. I was really looking forward to waiting in the cold for the bus home, and I'm sure the other passengers on that bus would have loved my company.

But as I walked out in my little snit, I stopped in the church kitchen. I saw the judge a bit overwhelmed by onions, carrots, potatoes and five boiling pots of stock. I grabbed a knife and started chopping. We caught up a bit. A couple other people stopped in to help cook, and we all laughed a bit about the cold and wind, exchanging stories about aging parents and college-age children.

It's easy to laugh about the cold when you are cooking, and protected from the wind in an old church with double-brick walls.

It's easy to help a weak, wealthy woman walk into a posh church.

It's a bit more difficult to work the serving line in the soup kitchen, but it becomes easier when you try to make everyone you serve feel like a neighbor in your home.

Charity in action is learned behavior; keep practicing. You don't have to be religious to make love of neighbor part of your soul.

Just do the right thing. Or I'm gonna tell your mamma.

Life without good works is meaningless. You are on your own about faith.

One day, a follower of wisdom who was seeking approval came to the old master.

He spoke to the old master, "I follow the wisdom of my elders and I practice charity towards my fellow man. I find it a joyful experience. For every copper I share and every problem I resolve I receive ten-fold satisfaction and contentment for my labors. Is that not the peace for which we seek?"

And the old master walloped him, very hard, on the head and sent him out to work on it.

Another day, a follower of wisdom came to the old master in search of advice.

He spoke to the old master, "I follow the wisdom of my elders and I practice charity towards my fellow man. It is a difficult and unrewarding experience. For every copper I share and every problem I resolve I receive nothing but dependency, responsibility or surly thanklessness. I persist, though, as I know it is my duty and will bring me peace."

And the old master struck the man, very smartly, on the ear and sent him out to work on it.

A student, seeing these displays, came before the old master seeking enlightenment.

The old master spoke, "Charity is neither privilege nor duty. Wisdom is simply doing what must be done."

The student, enlightened, laid a good one right upside the old fraud's head and went out to find something else to do.

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