Monday, February 16, 2009

Reaching out in love

This past Saturday two groups of us split up to feed our brothers and sisters in different locations in downtown Grand Rapids. What a blessed Valentine's Day it was!

One group went to the park as is done every Saturday. The other group of us went to the Vern Barry Place - Dwelling Place Apartments - on S. Division. We served and conversed with about 50 brothers and sisters, all of whom were thankful and happy to see us. One brother, Sterling, who we have come to know over the months in the park was happy to see us in his place of residence instead of outside where it was cold.

Part way through our Valentine lunch in the community center at Verne Barry, my husband (who had been serving soup in the park) stopped in. He mentioned that they had about 25 people stop by the park for food and conversation - a smaller group than other Saturdays.

I didn't think much about the fewer people until later that afternoon at home. Many times I have been told by various people that the homeless or poor in Grand Rapids are far from starving. Brothers and sisters we meet in the park have told us what a generous community Grand Rapids is and how many places provide meals throughout the week.

When friends find out what we're doing, some say - "why don't you just let the shelters take care of them." or "You may get taken advantage of." or "why stand out in the cold?"
I couldn't help thinking that day - is what we are doing each Saturday that important?
How could I think this when I've seen so many people have come together in the Holy Spirit to contribute to this ministry. That is certainly a witness of Christ's love.

Later that night, I was meditating on the next day's (Sunday) Gospel, Mark 1:40-45
"A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said,"If you wish, you can make me clean."Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, "I do will it. Be made clean."The leprosy left him immediately, and he was made clean.Then, warning him sternly, he dismissed him at once. He said to him, "See that you tell no one anything,but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses prescribed;that will be proof for them."The man went away and began to publicize the whole matter.He spread the report abroad so that it was impossible for Jesus to enter a town openly.He remained outside in deserted places,and people kept coming to him from everywhere."

My eyes were opened to the deception of my earlier thoughts -" is it really that important that we're in the park each Saturday?" These thoughts were negative, not lovely or good. They were obstacles to the Lord's peace within me. The enemy was tempting me to doubt God's call.

Immediately, my heart spilled out St. Paul's words to the Philippians -
"whatever is true, whatever is honorable,whatever is just, whatever is pure,whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious,if there is any excellenceand if there is anything worthy of praise,think about these things.Keep on doing what you have learned and receivedand heard and seen in me.Then the God of peace will be with you."

Further encouragement came the next day at Mass when Fr. Tony spoke in his homily about the lepers -untouchables - in today's society. Are we aware of the many "untouchable lepers" right here in our own community - the homeless, the sick or mentally ill, the poor, the neighbor with whom nobody talks, the elderly man or woman at church who comes and goes without so much as a hello from anyone, the alcoholic relative, the homosexual, the son or daughter who feels misunderstood?...

Anyone who is ostracized, forgotten or seen as unimportant is like a "leper".
In other words, WE SINNERS are all lepers at some point. Then what happens when we begin to live at children of God? WE make others feel like lepers!
How often do we ignore them when our Savior, Jesus Christ, embraced them? HE is calling us to embrace them also.

Sure, many of the people we meet on Saturday can get a meal elsewhere. It's cold out, and they don't need to leave the warmth of the library to meet us.
BUT - they are leaving the warmth of the library. They are choosing to meet us as we meet them where they are. They come for hot soup or a sandwich, but stay for conversation. We may be the only diversion from their daily routine of trying to keep busy. We may be the only people they talk to who are not homeless. Yet, we may have some of the same problems at present or in the past.
Possibly, we spread hope and love. Possibly, they open our eyes to the world as it really is - the injustices that happen each and every day in our "Christian" nation.

Personally, I can't not go to the park every Saturday because God has tugged on my heart to go. "Whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers..."
What happens when we're together and after we depart from each other is up to the Holy Spirit.

Every one of us who have been baptized have been given the gifts of the Holy Spirit to bring God glory and further His kingdom. How will you use your gifts today?

May the peace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ reign in your heart, your mind and on your lips today and always. Amen!