On the Mary’s Pence website, it states that the reason we aim to support, empower, and fund women living in poverty throughout the Americas is because “everything we have in excess belongs to the poor. It is theirs.” This struck me as extreme when I first began looking at the organization. Sure, I agreed with the general idea of giving to the poor, but as a recent graduate without a paycheck, the idea of everything I had in excess seemed a little challenging. I tried to imagine myself living a life of complete austerity, giving away all my worldly possessions. I respected and admired those who choose to do this, but I couldn’t quite see that as my future.
As I read on, I learned a little more about what Mary’s Pence does and how and why we give. Mary’s Pence directs funds towards projects that support social justice—changing systems so that women everywhere can have greater access to resources, education, and work. I learned a little more about the difference between charity and justice.
I was introduced to those “two feet” of Catholic social action when I started working for Mary’s Pence. Charity is important, because it addresses the needs of people experiencing poverty, and offers immediate solutions. It means sharing what we have in excess.
But charity offers no long-term solutions. It focuses on individual needs and requires no change to social structures. It shares resources, but no power. This is where justice comes in. Rather than “giving a person a fish,” working for justice means working to give that person access to the pond. It means changing systems of oppression so that charity will be less needed in the future. It means progress.
Of course, while we fight for change we cannot ignore the immediate needs of those affected by inequality as it exists. That is not justice. This is why Mary’s Pence has granted funds to organizations that shelter vulnerable women and families, such as Casa Guadalupana, which offers temporary room and board to women in transition and their families. They provide immediate relief: food, medicine, and shelter. But they also work to change the system, to advocate for the women and listen to their voices, working together and sharing power. There can be no justice without solidarity.
Last Monday, in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Mary’s Pence posted one of our favorite quotes by the inspiring civil rights leader: “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.”
This is what we strive for in our work here at Mary’s Pence. It is not about giving everything we have to the poor, but giving generously where we can to the organizations that promote change, and in doing so finding the intersection of charity and justice.