Readings for Sunday, September 22/ 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time:
Psalm 112:1-2, 4-8
1 Timothy 2:1-8
Before coming here to the River Parishes I was at St. George parish in Baton Rouge, which, like our parish, had a school attached to it. In one of the first homilies that I preached to the kids I used an analogy that I thought would be helpful in explaining the main point – doing things as a sign of love. I spoke of how I liked pancakes and my grandmother used to make them for me because she knew how much I liked them. I then tried to explain how we could do things for others to show love and how God even does the same for us throughout our days. I thought it went well, but when I went out on the playground later I quickly began to wonder otherwise as I was greeted by a flock of kids screaming ‘PANCAKES!!!’. And in the following months as I would visit with them, talking in classes and such, inevitably the questions would shift from Jesus to pancakes – ‘What kind of pancake is your favorite? Do you like waffles too? How many can you eat at once?’ and many similar questions. A couple of weeks ago I was hearing confessions at Catholic High School and one young man approached me and asked if I still liked pancakes – two years later! They definitely got that part of the homily but I was never sure if they got the connection with the main point that I was trying to make. And I think that can happy to all of us when we approach the Scriptures or some aspect of our faith. Something in it catches us and we get caught in that one point and can lose the sight of the bigger picture before us.
Today the Lord is inviting us to look at the full picture of caring for the poor.
The first reading speaks of the Lord’s frustration with a people who were neglecting and even taking advantage of the poor by fixing their scales and changing the exchange rates to win profit for themselves and cost the poor what little they had. Instead of lifting up the poor, as the Lord does and desires them to imitate, they oppress them. We in our own day see this happening still with economic differences between individuals in communities, states, and entire nations as the rich seek to increase wealth at the expense of the poor. But as Christians, as Catholics, we are called to lift up the poor in every way that we can because in doing so we are serving Christ. As he says in the Gospels: when we give drink, food, clothing or shelter to the least among us, we do so to Him. We must seek out the poor not just because they are poor, but because they are Christ in the midst of us longing to be helped. When we see the face of the poor, we see the face of Christ.
If you think about it, the poor aren’t just some people here and there. We are all the poor. After all, we were the ones stuck in our sins and in need of a savior to lift us up to new life. We are all the poor in that way. But we can also be poor in other ways. And we are all rich in some ways.
When we think about the poor, most often we are immediately mindful of those in physical, monetary poverty. To these we have a grave obligation to give service because every human being because of their dignity has the right to food, drink, clothing, shelter, education, and reasonable healthcare. The St. Vincent de Paul Society in our community helps individuals in this state each and every day by the store they run and the other ministries in action. We can join with them by serving at the store, supporting them financially, or donating items to help continue their world. We can also help people in physical poverty by supporting other good organization that build up individuals and lift them up. Too, we can support people ourselves without the help of an organization. If we have the means, it is a good and holy thing to help someone in need financially. By not clinging to our goods, we are able to share them generously with those in need and win great merit.
But the physical, monetary poor are not the only poor ones among us. To this group we can also add those who are spiritually poor: those who do not believe in God, those who are struggling in faith, or deprived of a solid spiritual foundation. For them we can offer prayers, we can invite them to Mass, we can share stories of faith, and we can simply be there to help them along their own life’s journey knowing that the Lord is quietly guiding them to himself. God has blessed us with an abundance of riches in our faith and in this community, and we who are rich in His blessings are invited to share them with others that they might know the joy we have.
But the physically and spiritually poor are not all whom we can serve. The reality is that the poor can be found among us in a hundred different ways and more. They are among us in the sick, the elderly, those enduring trials, and those who are simply in need of an act of kindness. There’s a book by Fr. Lawrence Lovasik titled “The Hidden Power of Kindness” and the main premise is that we can do even simple things and have such a powerful impact upon our world if we do them with charity. Where we are able to do big things and help in a tangible way, we should. Where we are able to lift someone up in prayer, with an encouraging word or sign of love, we should. Where we can help even the smallest bit by showing someone kindness and the charity of Jesus Christ that is alive in our hearts, we should. We should do this not because of what we gain from it but because of what we are able to give: an experience of God’s love and compassion for one in need, just as we have received before in many ways ourselves.