By Deacon John De Gano
My young friend, Xavier, was excited to show me the two Little Free Libraries (one with children’s titles and one for all ages) his family and friends had installed and decorated in the front yard and how he was going to maintain them – refilling the shelves as books were taken and others dropped off. He added with pride that the project was a cooperative event.
Listening to his excitement reminded me of my college days at UCR when I used to drop by the used book co-op on campus where some of my fellow classmates volunteered their time so people like me could have access to cheap reading material on the weekends and during school breaks. It seemed almost magical to me at the time to be a part of such a worthy endeavor.
Co-ops are one way small numbers of like-minded people can work together to effectively serve the common good by meeting the needs of the poor and marginalized.
Back in those days, my parents and/or older brother would volunteer one night a week as needed at a local food co-op, bagging loose beans and rice by weight and assembling food boxes for pick up. Members were asked to put in “sweat equity” (often a three to four hour shift) in a conscious effort to reduce costs and keep extended hours to serve their working-poor clientele.
Most of those co-ops from the 1970s, including the consumer co-op Fedco, are gone. A handful remain like Ace Hardware and REI, the sporting goods supplier. And while many financial co-ops have merged, there are still credit unions around to serve their memberships.
Recently, there has been a resurgence of food-related co-ops to provide nutritious fruits and vegetables at reduced prices, especially to the poor who often live in “food deserts,” places with no nearby markets or grocery stores selling fresh produce.
In 1 Philippians 2:1-8, St. Paul encourages his listeners to be of the same mind, love and heart as Christ. He further adds that they humble themselves, view others as more important than themselves and place others needs ahead of their own.
In a sense, St. Paul is inviting the faithful to be members of Jesus’ body, a sort of co-op of the faithful, each with a stake in the outcome and a role to play in bring more to the table of the Lord.
“Ora y labora” – a church of prayer and work. And a place to rest and socialize, be formed in the Scriptures and the teachings of the faith before being sent back out to evangelize and bring others to Christ.
Jesus’ co-op began with twelve disciples. Their joy became complete as they assembled more and more disciples, taught them to care for one another and the people they would serve, especially the poor, the blind and the lame. Those very ones who needed their services (especially, hope) the most.
And just so, two thousand years later, Xavier is using his little libraries to go out and minister to his neighborhood. He is bringing literary “food” to those who hunger for knowledge and lack access to the public library or bookstore and perhaps, through his choice of reading material offered up for consumption, he will evangelize not only the mind but the heart and soul of those who join him in taking ownership of this modern-day library co-op when they take a book or leave a book.
And as with St. Paul, Xavier’s joy will then be complete.
John De Gano is a deacon at St. Catherine of Alexandria parish in Riverside.