It’s that time of year again when many of us get bombarded with appeals from various charities asking for donations to help feed the hungry over the holidays. Perhaps some of you are saying: “I get bombarded with appeals all year long!” Yes, the poor and hungry are always with us and more so now during this lingering economic downturn.
Yesterday I was pondering the following in a commentary by Fr. Ron Rolheiser entitled “A prophetic mantra about the poor,” in The Michigan Catholic:
The great prophets of Israel had coined this mantra: The quality of your faith will be judged by the quality of justice in the land…. For the great prophets of Israel, ultimately we will be judged religiously and morally on the basis of how the poorest of the poor fared while we are alive.
That’s a scary thought which becomes scarier when we see how Jesus endorsed that view…. Jesus tells us that, at the end of day, when we stand before the great King on the day of judgement, we will be asked only one set of questions and they all will have to do with how we treat the poor: Did you feed the hungry? Give drink to the thirsty? Welcome the stranger? Clothe the naked? Visit the sick? Visit prisoners?… Nobody gets to heaven without a letter of reference from the poor.
This first got me thinking about an article I read not an hour before in the Lansing State Journal about those in the Occupy Wall Street movement creating a situation (free food, medical care, and shelter to anyone) that attracts the homeless. While there have been incidents of fights, drunkenness, and weapons being drawn as a result, according to this article many homeless people say that the movement has given them a voice to speak out against the economic conditions that forced them to be homeless. The article goes on to say that some organizers feel that including the homeless allows them to demonstrate their political ideals, showing the world that the homeless can become functional parts of society. [Source: Associated Press, “‘Occupy’ sites offer food, shelter,” Lansing State Journal, October 23, 2011, p. 4A]
I then got to thinking about how I would answer those questions above. First off, I can honestly say that I’ve never visited anyone in prison and it’s highly unlikely that I’ll do that anytime within my lifetime. As for the other questions, well, my husband and I have been blessed so we try to do what we can. We give money to the local food bank yearly. Recently when the Okemos High School National Honor Society put a bag on our porch wanting food and toiletries for their Red Cross Food Drive, we were eager to help. However, what was in the bag never got to its intended destination because no one came back on the appointed day to pick up the bag. So, I rebagged the food and donated it to the ongoing food drive at church. Periodically we’ve given goods to Goodwill. Visiting the sick. I’ve definitely made enough trips to visit relatives and friends of the family in hospitals and nursing homes to last a lifetime. For years I helped an elderly aunt of mine run her errands. I suppose when I stayed overnight or on weekends this provided some companionship so she didn’t get too lonely. I still call her periodically. On the spiritual end, I was once what they used to call a Eucharistic Minister in my church and over the years I have thought about getting re-trained for that ministry if or when my time gets freed up to serve. But, is this enough?
Somehow this brought to mind a chipped teacup. Years ago someone I know was working for an organization that was having a fundraiser. This person was tasked with going around to people’s homes to pick up donations then unpacking them at the fundraiser site. In one of the boxes, there was a chipped teacup. Now, who would think that someone would buy a chipped teacup? she said, dismayed (or disgusted). Her father replied, perhaps equally disgusted, “Of course no one would buy a chipped teacup.” Now, I did not see this cup, nor do I know the people who donated it. But what if the people who donated it were not well off, or were facing some tough times and didn’t have much themselves or were afraid of losing what they had and yet they still wanted to donate something to this fundraiser? They may have thought that this teacup, despite its flaws, was still usable and therefore still valuable and could fetch at least a little something at the fundraiser.
This led me to think about a garage sale I went to long ago. Growing up we didn’t have much money, but I did get some money for birthdays and Christmas. I saved most of it, but I did spend some too. When I was in elementary school, or perhaps early in middle school, my neighbor had a garage sale to raise some money (no one in that neighborhood was too well off). A friend of mine and I went with some pocket change. There wasn’t much that we could afford, but there were two things that caught my eye there. One was a small, plastic glow-in-the-dark St. Mary statue and another was a small plastic figurine of a little girl at her First Communion kneeling at a Communion rail. I paid the 10 cents or whatever it was and was so excited to get it home and show my father. We decided to put both in prominent places in the living room.
I was not shy about showing these beautiful pieces to my relatives that came over. But when I showed this one aunt of mine the First Communion figurine her reaction was not supportive. “Why would you pay money for it? It’s broken.” Implying that it was best suited to the garbage, not to a place on a table in the living room. Until she mentioned it, I had not seen its brokenness. I didn’t notice that one of the candles was missing. All I saw was the little girl in the beautiful dress with the angelic look on her face. When I saw this figurine and the St. Mary figurine, something spoke to me from within. Both were beautiful in my eyes, and I wanted that beauty near me. Although my aunt’s comments hurt my feelings, I never stopped seeing the beauty. I no longer have the First Communion figurine. Until I moved a year ago, the glow-in-the-dark St. Mary statue was near my bedside, one of the last things I’d see before going to sleep at night.
Sometimes I wonder if these two things, and the feelings they evoked within me over the years, helped lead me back into full participation in the Catholic faith. All I know for sure is that I am grateful to whatever did lead me back. I have not regretted a minute of it since.