Something that Archbishop Chaput said in a recent homily has stuck with me for the past week. He was speaking about the Christian virtue of charity – in particular, to care for the poor.
He spoke eloquently of our Christian duty to care for the poor because Jesus calls us to do by the many examples in the ministry of Jesus, documented in the Synoptic Gospels, where he cared for the poor.
Today’s Gospel reading is one such story of the compassion of Christ Jesus:
“Jesus went around to all the towns and villages,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom,
and curing every disease and illness.
At the sight of the crowds, his heart was moved with pity for them
because they were troubled and abandoned,
like sheep without a shepherd.”
In response Jesus gave the authority to his 12 disciples to drive out unclean spirits, cure every disease and every illness.
Jesus sent out these Twelve after instructing them thus,
“Go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: ‘The Kingdom of heaven is at hand.’
Cure the sick, raise the dead,
cleanse lepers, drive out demons.”
Jesus was so moved by his own compassion that he commissioned his 12 disciples to show that same compassion because people were desperate for help.
The same desperation exists today and I wonder if I am doing enough to help?
Prior to my conversion to Catholicism, I was put off by beggars. My reaction to them was judgement and rejection, not compassion. I justified my reaction because I did not understand the complex reality of homelessness. Also, I was afraid of the truth – that anyone could end up homeless and begging for food to keep them alive. As a result of my ignorance, I never gave money to someone who begged for it.
I never showed charity.
It was Brother Larry in my RCIA class who turned me around. He ran a soup kitchen and encouraged me to work in it. Volunteering on there, I did my best to get over my fears and prejudices and slowly came to understand that someone who has lost his possessions, his place to live, his self-respect is someone who needs love and a place where they can feel safe.
Yet the homeless are met with derision and called ‘bums’.
I was also shocked to the point of tears when young families with young children would come to eat. Prior to this experience I rationalized that homeless was ’caused’ by something – that the homeless person is at fault and therefore does not deserve compassion for their situation or in that ‘bailing them out’, it would eliminate their self-obligation.
I am not proud of these sentiments. They are deplorable and embarrassing to admit publicly. I share them because I know many people think this way and this prevents us from fulfilling our Christian duty of charity.
As I watched Brother Larry work the room at the soup kitchen, serve food, smile and engage everyone I began to realize that I was stupid and foolish. I started to imagine how I would feel if I had to beg on the street. That it must cause feelings of shame in the person who comes to ask complete strangers for a handout. I realized that few homeless people are there by choice.
Ultimately, I came to realize that I am not to judge someone for their life circumstances or choices. Jesus did not show selective compassion and in today’s reading, explicitly told the 12 disciples that:
“Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give.”
I learned to show compassion as I began to give money to anyone on the street who asks me for it. I make sure that I look the person in the eyes during this exchange because I see a brief moment of relief in them. I cannot think of one time when the look returned was anything but thanksgiving.
There are times when I say ‘no’ because at that moment my heart is hardened. I end up feeling awful when I turn someone away because now I know better because I remember Matthew 25:40:
”Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.”
There are other times when I do not have money. A few times, I have actually gone to the ATM, taken out money and come back to give it to the person. One time, I gave someone money and that put him over for the day so he left his roadside post. These moments make my heart feel full.
Being face-to-face with someone who has lost many worldly fortunes and comforts is a reminder of our own good fortune. I pray for those in need of charity and compassion and that I will not turn them away, even if my heart feels hardened at that moment. I pray for the grace to see Christ in their faces and remember that I can love them.
Post-Script 12/09/2011. Patrick Madrid (awesome) put up a link to ‘Change for a dollar?’ I thought it was relevant to the comments so I added it here:
- Day 7 of Advent
- Today we remember of St. Francis Xavier.
- Watch a video reflection on today’s scripture readings.
- Pray the Rosary!
- Follow me on Twitter: @cinhosa
- Find me on Facebook
- Compassion (thebondsarebroken.com)
- Homeless crisis as 400 youths a day forced to live on the streets of Britain (mirror.co.uk)
- Statement from the Philadelphia Homeless Encampment-cnbnews.net (gloucestercitynews.net)
- The Compassion of Jesus … (cmcsarchchicago.wordpress.com)
- Impressions of a Homeless Meeting (kymkemp.com)
- She Finally “Saw” the Homeless (blogher.com)