“What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.” – St. Augustine of Hippo
The world is a big place, and there’s a lot of evil in it. Open any news site and you are instantly greeted with tragedy after tragedy. It is easy to become discouraged when reading the latest horrifying story about some atrocity on the other side of the world, or perhaps some scandal or heresy in the Church. We feel so helpless, so small.
In the face of such evil, how can we ever make a difference? How can we bring about the kingdom of Jesus?
The answer is actually quite simple. So simple, in fact, that it fits on a bumper sticker I’ve seen more than once: “Think globally, act locally.”
It’s not wrong to want to change the world. In fact, if we don’t have any concern for others far away from us, we should be disturbed by the hardness of our own hearts. It is simply un-Catholic to be aware of the suffering and the needs of others and to have no compassion. Distance does not make anyone less human, or their suffering less terrible.
Seeing our Christian brothers and sisters persecuted and brutally murdered in Syria should grieve us. Knowing that mothers are forced into abortions in China should horrify us. Child prostitution in Thailand should break our hearts.
Now, we should not dwell on these things or fill our heads with evil news. Doing so will only lead to our own discouragement and even despair. St. Paul exhorts us to think about, “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious.”
But inevitably, with modern technology, we will encounter this negative news, and we are right to want to see evil vanquished and justice done. We should all have a fervent desire to see the kingdom of Jesus Christ spread on the earth.
Once we’ve decided that we want to change the world, that we want to spread the fire of the love of God in hearts, what do we do next? How can we, as small and insignificant as we are, make a difference? The only method we should follow is the method of Jesus Christ and his best imitators, the saints: Act locally.
Even though his message was for all men, Jesus never traveled to Greece or Rome. He never traveled to India or China. He ministered to those right in front of him. He worked face to face, person to person, healing diseases, forgiving sins, and preaching the Gospel of the kingdom. Even his passion and death took place in one city, and yet its fruits are available to all.
Many of the saints, too, never left their diocese or their monastery. They lived, served, and suffered in an incredibly small radius—especially by modern standards. And yet their impact was and is felt throughout the universal Church.
All holiness is ultimately local. While it is good to feel compassion for those suffering far away, we are first and foremost called to serve those right in front of us. We may not be able to stop persecution in Syria, but we can be patient with and kind to an irritating co-worker. We may not be able to feed a man in the slums of India, but we can share the faith with a curious friend. We may not be able to end China’s forced abortions, but we can forgive someone who has wronged us grievously.
Living the Gospel is person to person, face to face; its demands are not satisfied by sending a check to an aid organization, nor feeling compassion for people we will never meet. That is far too easy. No, the Gospel is the hard and costly work of loving and sacrificing for those close to us—those who make us angry or ask for our help or who mistreat us.
The next time a news story makes you angry or discouraged, let it instead motivate you to change the world in which God has placed you. Look around you. I assure you, there are opportunities to serve and to love everywhere. I will close with the exhortation of St. Paul, which is how we are to live the Gospel:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any incentive of love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.