Matthew 25:43 “I was a stranger and you didn’t invite me in…”
Here are some of the 150 homeless men, women and children invited to the Sistine Chapel yesterday by Pope Francis. The Pope met privately with them, asked for their prayers and said, “This is your home.” Afterwards they were invited to a special dinner.
This beautiful photo is itself a meditation on many truths: First, we are reminded of St. Lawrence bringing the poor to a third-century Roman emperor and saying, “Here are the true treasures of the church.” Indeed, here they are: the greatest treasures of the church before the greatest artistic treasure. Second, it is a unique meditation on the communion of saints, above and below. The people in this photo, seated below, are part of the great communion of saints, who are included in Michelangelo’s masterpiece, which depicts not only those going to hell but the saved, those being invited into heaven. And what is the litmus test for entrance into heaven? As Jesus says in Matthew’s Gospel, it is how you treat the poor. Third, it is a meditation on humility. The Pope asked that no photos of himself be taken. Fourth, it is a meditation on how the church can treat the poor: the way that the father treats the prodigal son in Jesus’s parable in Luke’s Gospel: lavishly, prodigally, over the top. Why should we stint when it comes to helping the poor? Finally, it is a meditation on joy. Look at the faces of these these men and women when they are treated as human beings, and not simply as objects of charity or as bothersome problems in our cities and towns. The Joy of the Gospel, Evangelium Gaudium, is real, and it can be found here on earth.
(Photo from L’Osservatore Romano.)
She had been so wicked that in all her life she had done only one good deed — given an onion to a beggar. So she went to hell. As she lay in torment she saw the onion, lowered down from heaven by an angel. She caught hold of it. He began to pull her up. The other damned saw what was happening and caught hold of it too. She was indignant and cried, “Let go — it’s my onion,” and as soon as she said, “My onion,” the stalk broke and she fell back into the flames.” — E. M. Forster in The Hill of Devi
When does the cost of an onion become too high?
Selfishness, selfcenteredness and egocentric behavior all seem more the norm rather than the exception in today’s society. But that come with a heavy price as illustrated in the quote above.
Life is about love, about relationships, and about sharing. The more we give the more we live. Every opportunity to share is another opportunity to become more alive and to experience even deeper joy.
Me, my, and mine are not large words. Yet, all of them are far heavier than we imagine. We would do well to remember, that the stalk of an onion cannot bear the weight of even one of them.
Lift up and stretch out your hands, not to heaven, but to the poor; for if you stretch forth your hands to the poor, you have reached the summit of heaven, but if you lift up your hands in prayer without sharing with the poor, it is worth nothing. – Saint John Chrysostom
This is another quote from Saint John Chrysostom (349-407 AD), the Early Church Father and Archbishop of Constantinople. He is best known for his preaching and public speaking and his name actually means “golden tongue.” He also never wavered in his clear denunciation of the abuse of authority by both ecclesiastical and political leaders. This is the fifth post I have recently shared that illustrates this saint’s deep concern for the poor and hungry.
My first post on Chrysostom shared his statement that feeding the hungry is greater and more powerful than working miracles. He was showing that walking along side the poor and hungry should be an integral part of authentic spirituality. My last post from the Archbishop focused on the wealth of a Church surrounded by poverty and hunger.
This quote is a perfect summation of Chrysostom’s feelings about authentic spirituality. Unless we are walking alongside the poor our prayers are hollow and our religion is worthless. Sharing with the poor is prayer that reaches the very summit of heaven.
Sometimes during the excitement and joy of celebrating the deep beauty of this special season we forget those of our family whose circumstances cry out for the presence of the One whose birth we celebrate. This Christmas Prayer from the METHODIST FEDERATION FOR SOCIAL ACTION is a powerful reminder that we are all called to become love incarnate. Transformed and empowered by the Holy Spirit, each of us are called to reach out to those most in need.
I have a vision of a world without hunger. And I am committed to ending hunger in our lifetime. Like Gandhi, I know that “this world has enough for every man’s need, but not enough for every man’s greed.”
Meeting the real needs of the poor and hungry simply requires sharing the abundant resources with which we have been so richly blessed. And the amount needed is far less than we might imagine.
A $175 billion a year would easily meet the Millennium Development Goals. That breaks down to less than $250 a year for the 850 million of us that have an above average income (based on the average income of Portugal, the lowest income nation in Europe).
This amount, $175 billion, would allow us to cut the number of poor and hungry in half. Think about it, less than $250 a person could save millions of lives a year and bring even more millions out of the shadow of crushing poverty.
Why don’t we make it happen? Are we too selfish to care? Or is the deeper truth that we are in chains ourselves, too chained by our riches to break free enough to act on behalf of those dying from our refusal to see the truth?
The words of Cyprian, a bishop of Carthage in the third century seem appropriate.
Their property held them in chains…chains which shackled their courage and choked their faith and hampered their judgment and throttled their souls…If they stored up their treasure in heaven, they would not now have an enemy and a thief within their household…They think of themselves as owners, whereas it is they rather who are owned: enslaved as they are to their own property, they are not the masters of their money but its slaves.