In the 24-hour news cycle there is the 24-hour violence cycle. We hear one disastrous story after the next and process unending horrifying images of carnage and death. This is a damaged and hurting world, of that there is no doubt. In instances of man-made violence, our secular culture finds shallow satisfaction in playing the blame game, often scapegoating the marginalized person(s) involved, thereby allowing them to “attack” something “out there”. Sadly, the history of violence and the history of religion walk much of the same path. Immature religion tends to create aggressively judgmental people who find it all too easy to place themselves on the side of the just, good and worthy while projecting their own fear, evil and malice onto another group that they can attack at a more comfortable distance, as though it is someone else who has to die.
The truth is that we are called to die (to ourselves) first. As Richard Rohr says, “Authentic religion is always about you, it says you change first.” Whenever we find that we have entrenched ourselves on a particular side of a divisive social issue, we should stop and ask ourselves, “Have I examined my own role in this… what am I able to address in myself, and how, with God’s infinite mercy, can I love the other person?”
How many of us have thought of all the good things we would do for other people, if only we were rich? I have even heard the very wealthy state that it is their responsibility to use their wealth for the betterment of mankind. But, where does that leave the rest of us? For some, it creates a excuse for inaction. “If I were wealthy I would do this or that for others, but since I am not— since I struggle in my own life, it is someone else’s responsibility.” I admit that I have thought this myself at one point or another, equating money with action, but we are reminded by Christ that all of us have a calling to care for one another, especially the less fortunate.
While listening to a former homeless man share his experiences, one thing that struck me was the heartbreak of becoming invisible. His humble story detailed the circumstances that brought him from being a college graduate with a wife and children to living on the streets, but the saddest part of his journey was the dis-integration of self and society. I was immediately ashamed in my spirit of the many times I have passed a homeless person reaching out to me and I make no eye contact, I don’t even pause in my conversation with my walking companion and recognize this other person. Pope Francis said, “Exclusion ultimately has to do with what it means to be a part of the society in which we live; those excluded are no longer society’s underside or its fringes or its disenfranchised – they are no longer even a part of it.”
What can we do to help? Another member who was present during the story of the homeless man said that when he has nothing else to offer a person on the street, he asks for their name so that he can hold them in his prayers. Not only are we brought closer to God when we intercede on behalf of another, but in asking that person for their name you acknowledge their presence, their identity, and you restore a small part of dignity to them. Money is nice but as Christians we believe in the power of prayer, so let us not discount this desperately needed action of love.
“I believe that every right implies a responsibility; every opportunity, an obligation; every possession, a duty,” John Rockefeller once said. May we remember that we possess the presence and love of God within us and are charged with sharing that love with everyone we encounter.