Wednesday, May 14, 2014

If God sends them

Pope Francis of Rome—may God preserve him—was not saying anything new when he recently encouraged the rich in this world’s goods to help alleviate the poverty of the poor. Indeed, he was only repeating the teachings of the holy fathers, especially those ancient ones which are the inheritance of both Rome and the Patriarchates. But upon hearing the news, my first words were, ‘Telling the rich they should share their wealth with the poor is like telling a hungry wolf not to eat the sheep.’ I said this not cynically, I hope, but realizing suddenly how obeying this simple command, even when it is being attempted, is made nearly impossible because it is as overlaid with regulations and complicated as modern income tax law. Immediately a picture entered my mind.

There I am in the supermarket. I overhear a rather ragged, unkempt youngish forty-ish neo-hippie telling someone on his cell phone that he can’t get the groceries because… I didn’t hear exactly what the reason was, but he said ‘I think I have another idea,’ and then hangs up and disappears down the next aisle. I am sick with the flu and so I came to get a watermelon to eat to prevent dehydration (yes, it works!). After finding a few more items for the week’s lunches, I take my cargo to the checkout—only $21.22 for all that stuff? Wow!

My mind keeps going back to the man with the problem. Is he a poor man? I don’t know exactly, but he’s poorer than me. Is there any other excuse for me to not offer to help him? Is he a druggy? An alcoholic? I already know he’s an unwashed hippie. Does he have piercings or is he tattooed? I didn’t look that closely. Is he a homeless man? Maybe, but there are lots of poor people who sleep under a roof. All this flashes through my mind as I walk past the other checkouts on the way out. I ask myself, ‘Would I help him if he was the guy ahead of me in the line?’ I want to think I would, unless of course he was buying cigarettes or alcohol. There we go again, excuses to not help him!

As I pass the last checkout stands which are self-checkouts, there is the man himself putting his few items in a bag, and I think to myself, ‘Okay, something must have happened. He said he had an idea.’ At this point, I didn’t think from a brain insulated by my chief justice’s wig, and I am just happy that he seems to be able to get his stuff paid for. I chalk the incident up—yes, it was more than a mental picture; it was a real life happening—to a case of the Lord putting me on the spot, and then letting me off the hook. But I still wonder, would I offer to pay for his groceries if he was the guy ahead of me?

His Holiness is, I am sure, well aware of all this, that helping the poor needn’t begin with the rich—and I mean (pardon the expression, no offense meant) ‘the filthy rich’—but is the common responsibility of everyone. What Pope Francis is doing is just emphasizing to those at the top of the world’s pleasures that they have an opportunity that mustn’t be missed. Neither Christ, nor the pope, asks the rich if they believe in Him, or what their church affiliation is. Both just say, ‘Give!’ This is the teaching of Christ. This is the teaching of His holy apostles. This is the teaching of the holy fathers. This is the teaching that has established the world… Uh-oh! Maybe I’ve taken it a bit too far. But even Mother Teresa of Calcutta used to say that by helping the poor she was helping Christ in His distressing disguise. And Christ Himself, ‘whatsoever you do to the least of these, you do unto Me.’ Are we convinced yet?

As for myself, I know I am ninety per cent talk and ten per cent action, no better than most of us. Luckily I am simple-minded enough to feel obligated to help others in trouble when and if I can. I don’t go looking for them, but if God sends them…

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