When a homeless person in shabby clothes approaches you for a hand out, begging for help, what do you do? We see stories on the internet or TV about refugees fleeing war, refugee children fleeing gang violence or immigrants fleeing hunger and poverty. We read stories about the drought affecting poor communities in the Central Valley, about violence in jails affecting inmates and guards, about people struggling with mental illness or of a mother grieving for a dead child. How do we feel? What do we think? What should we do? How often do we struggle with how to respond to these painful stories every day? It can feel overwhelming and depressing. But there is hope.
As we celebrate the Jubilee Year of Mercy declared by Pope Francis, it can be helpful to ground ourselves in the traditional corporal works of mercy which help our neighbors in need: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, shelter the homeless, visit the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead. As a people of faith, we do this work not out of guilt or simply through our own power, but out of love for our neighbor because we have been loved first by God. We engage in the corporal works of mercy not only on an individual basis, but also as a community of faith and through organizations and social policies.
Volunteers can feed the hungry at Catholic Charities John XXIII Senior Center or Eastside Neighborhood Center or through collecting food for parish food pantries. We can also build community gardens so people can feed themselves or advocate for food policies that encourage greater access to nutritious meals and grocery stores in low income neighborhoods. Not only can we donate or volunteer to shelter the homeless in our parishes, we can also build more affordable housing through Charities Housing and advocate for funding and policies for more affordable housing and to end homelessness. Not only can we sponsor homeless refugees in our parishes, we can advocate for policies that protect them from discrimination and help them get jobs. Not only can we personally visit parishioners and others who are homebound or hospitalized or grieving over a death, we can support organizations that provide health care, mental health and care services like Catholic Charities John XXIII Clinic and Day Break Cares. Not only can we volunteer in juvenile hall or in detention ministry through the Diocese’s restorative justice program, we can support those coming out of jail with jobs, housing and a welcoming faith community through Bridges of Hope.
We are not asked to do all of these works of mercy all the time, but we are invited to act with discernment as the Spirit moves us to in a spirit of generosity, humility and joy. Start with one merciful act. You never know where it may lead. For as Jesus reminds us, “Blessed are the merciful, for mercy shall be theirs.”
More information can be found at www.CatholicCharitiesSCC.org.