Monday, March 11, 2019

Jesus says, "You Did It For Me"

Today's Gospel reading is a witness to the ultimate significance of every moment of every ordinary day of our lives. 

I dwell below upon the first portion of "The Final Judgment" in hope, to focus the light on the real, fragile, human neediness of the persons with whom Jesus has identified Himself, and through whom He offers Himself to us, asking for our love. 

I want to be one of those who are called "blessed of my Father."

My prayer is that, by His mercy and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, I might love Him in others by serving Him in their poverty, weakness, and needs. I beg for His forgiveness because I fall short and fail in this love every day. 

I am well aware of the corresponding judgment of vv. 41-45 upon those who have failed to love.

What is at stake here is nothing less than our identity for all eternity.

Obviously there is a teaching here on the necessity of social mercy as well as social justice, on the Church's "preferential option for the poor." We often talk about "helping the poor," but we who have an abundance of riches don't really do very much. We have agencies and bureaucracies to handle the complex business of poverty, and - like everything else in these times of epochal upheaval - "poverty" has become a gigantic, appalling, complex, and dangerous reality.

We have become so accustomed to an atmosphere of trauma, change, instability, and fear that the "wall of poverty" makes us terrified of the possibility of encountering real physically and deperately poor people. This is an alienation we must want to overcome, whatever the real practical possibilities may be for external actions in light of our actual circumstances.

But this "fear of the poor" is a consequence of a deeper problem. Our relationship with God is so weak (mine certainly is, at least) that we don't know how to live the most fundamental human interpersonal connections right in front of us. If we cower before the prospect of having anything to do with the needy "out there," it probably means we are isolated from one another.

I know that the "hungry," the "thirsty," the "sick," and even "the stranger" are not first of all some "scary people" far away and seemingly inaccessible to me. "Going out to the margins" begins at home. It begins with the persons who have been entrusted to me, who are under my roof, my wife, my kids, and also my parents and the many ordinary people whom I encounter and who hope to find something vitally human in me - kindness, attention, affirmation, encouragement, empathy, humble guidance, or any gesture of self-giving love, however small the moment might be.

Mother Teresa was very earnest when she invited us in the context of family life to smile at one another. She wasn't advocating a forced or artificial cheerful mood, but rather a chosen gift of one's self even when it is difficult.

"When, Lord, did we see you in need...?" If I may insert a bit of 21st Century "Midrash" here, then I'll illustrate a particular point like this: "'When did you see me in need?' replied the King. 'Well, for starters, how about EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. You woke up next to me every morning for 25/30/40/50/more YEARS. We lived together all those days. We raised kids. We spent almost ten cumulative years watching T.V. together. Were you aware of me? Did you love me the way you promised you would? That was me, in need of your love, all that time.'"

We are all "poor" in front of one another. We must love and care for one another, not in sentimentality and illusion, but in reality: real person to real person. If we truly love those entrusted to us, our "neighbors," we will also be drawn (together) to the "margins" in the sociological sense. A real "Communio," in which we serve Christ in one another, always engenders a passion for mission.

If there is no desire in us, no sense of solidarity, no sorrow that opens our hearts to the needs of the poor, no impetus toward engaging in works of mercy, then it is likely that we are a group of Christians who are failing to live in communion with one another. We easily substitute comfortable mutual conformity, ideology, or superficial activism for real love. Imperceptibly, we put limits on the attentiveness of our love. Then some measure other than the heart of Christ creeps in and subtly defines our being-together. If we don't wake up and return to God's love, eventually we will lose the sense of that communion-in-charity (caritas, agape) that vivifies our ecclesial life as brothers and sisters. It will be replaced by disconnection, or else there will arise among us the idolatrous and violent instincts of the post-modern tribe.

May God preserve us from such a forgetfulness of the face of Christ. Rather, let us worship and give glory to Him with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And let us serve Him in one another, and seek Him out and serve Him in every person, especially the poor who endure the most dire hunger and thirst, who wander the earth as strangers, who are cold, sick, troubled and in need of so many things.

By this loving service He strengthens us and draws us closer to Him.

"The king will say to those on his right,
'Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you 

from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.'
Then the righteous will answer him and say,
'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you,
or thirsty and give you drink?
When did we see you a stranger and welcome you,
or naked and clothe you?
When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply,
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of these least brothers of mine, 

you did for me.'"

~Matthew 25:34-40