“Share your bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless; Clothe the naked when you see them, and do not turn your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed” (see Isaiah 58:7-10).
“You are the light of the world” (see Matthew 5:13-16).
These passages are very meaningful and challenging, maybe more so than is immediately evident. In the seminary I was a member of a social justice committee and such passages as found in Isaiah inspired us. We really are called to share our bread with the hungry, to shelter the oppressed and homeless, to clothe the naked, and definitely NOT to turn our back on our own. But even if we were to be advocates of all the social justice platforms offered today, this alone would not make us faithful to this passage or a true light to the world.
Jesus and Jesus alone is the true light. Apart from him any flicker of light we might offer to others would be swallowed by the shadows. Sharing your bread with the hungry is a noble task, but the trouble is, the one given bread today will be hungry again tomorrow. We have many good-natured fellows who make others dependent upon them, unable to stand up for themselves with full human dignity. Or, we have just the opposite, those who feed their brothers and sisters once and feel no further obligation. And, on top of all this, we can forget the real hunger that is out there– that needs to be fed– that can only be satisfied in Christ. Christ comes to us in the bread of life, the Eucharist; he transforms us into himself, a bread which must be broken if it is to be given to others. It is not enough simply to care for the hungry; we have to LOVE them– some of whom are in our very families or groups of friends. Not all the hungry are on the street. They know who they are. Some may be in our midst right now. Do any of you sense it? Is there emptiness inside you? Is the belly of your soul crying out for nourishment? Don’t be afraid to ask for help, come– be fed– there are priests and other Catholics waiting to hear from you– to help you, come. Christ is waiting.
Isaiah also speaks of sheltering the oppressed and homeless. That is what the house of God is about. Sometimes when I am in church, I imagine I can feel an external oppression. I envision it pressing upon the outer walls. When our values of action and of belief are openly ridiculed and distorted, then we are oppressed.
Our Church is a shelter from all the wiles of a world intent upon our destruction. There are hurts out there– come in and be healed. There are lies out there– come in and hear the truth. There is violence out there– come in and receive peace. There is coldness out there– come in and be warmed by the flame of Christ’s love. There is darkness out there– come in and become a part of that light which is the Lord.
It is sad when someone hears the call of Christ and misinterprets it or only goes part way. There was a man in Washington, DC, who generously devoted his life to the care of the homeless. That is to be applauded. But, like so many, I have to wonder if he heard the call clearly. Why? He sold all he had, gave up his job, and did things reminiscent of what our Lord asked of the rich man in the Gospel. However, he also abandoned his wife and family to enter upon his crusade. He was my friend, but this always bothered me. Can we renounce one responsibility for another? Can we exchange one set of mouths to be fed for others? Can we cause homelessness in order to give a home for others? I do not want to judge anyone, but the very Scriptures which speak of so many deeds of mercy also remind us not to turn our back on our own. In Christ, and only in Christ, you are the light of the world. When does this light shine? It shines when a husband and wife love each other unselfishly, open to the gift of new life. It shines when a brother tells his sister, “I’m sorry, forgive me.” It shines when a father welcomes his alienated son back home. It shines when a couple loves each other so much that they discipline their love in chaste giving. It even shines when one friend gives another a scarf or sweater for Christmas. Done in Christ, all things great and small make the light of Christ shine all the brighter.
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