There was an article in last Sunday’s newspaper about one of the challenges facing a United Nations initiative to raise the standard of living for people around the world. According to a recent report by a group of advocates for the elderly and aging, many countries have little or no data about poverty among their elderly citizens. The lack of attention to poverty among the elderly makes the elderly an “invisible” sector of society in many places around the world.
The news article caught my attention because of the numerous populations who are treated as if they are “invisible” to wider society. In our country the poor, as well as some of the elderly, are neglected or ignored. In Pinellas County the greatest attention given to the homeless is to push them away from centers of population and activity. Around the world, immigrants and migrants are considered a nuisance.
Catholicism puts an immutable value on human life, and teaches that all people have a natural right to the basic necessities for survival. It is not widely accepted to believe that neglecting the basic needs of another human being is degrading, not only to the one in need, but also the one who is negligent. This is, however, what the Catholic Church teaches and believes. In today’s Gospel reading we see Jesus express this belief that all human life is sacred.
It is difficult, if not impossible, for us in western culture to appreciate the meaning of Jesus’ gesture in this passage of Mark’s Gospel. When we read about this event of Jesus embracing a child (Mark 9:36-37), we tend to interpret this from the point of view of our society’s sentimental notions about children and childhood. Scores of cute religious art works have been dedicated to depicting Jesus as something like a doting uncle or a beloved Little League coach. Unfortunately for us, Jesus’ action had nothing to do with any of the associations that we tend to make with regard to this event.
In Jesus’ culture, children were a marginalized class; they were among the “invisible” members of society. Young boys had no value to society until they were old enough to do manual labor, and young girls had no value until they were old enough to be married. In order to understand today’s Gospel we have to try to see Jesus embracing a marginalized class. A contemporary equivalent to what Jesus intended by this act would be an embrace of the elderly poor or illiterate immigrants or unwashed homeless.
There was nothing cute or sentimental about what Jesus did. On the contrary, it would have been shocking to the disciples. Jesus’ attention to a powerless and marginalized segment of the population would have left the disciples confused, and perhaps scandalized. Jesus’ intent was to demonstrate the message that he preached, namely, that he had been sent by God to reconcile the lost and sinful. (Mark 2:17)
I’m happy to say that All Saints parish does a very credible job of imitating Jesus’ compassion for the marginalized. My annual Stewardship Report is printed in this Sunday’s Bulletin. In that report, I tried to give prominence to some of our parish’s outreach ministries. We have a large number of people who bring Eucharist to Mease Countryside Hospital. There are also volunteers who go to the larger nursing homes in the parish, and to parishioners who are homebound. Those volunteers do a magnificent job of bringing Christ’s presence to the sick and suffering. The report also mentions The Kimberly Home, a residence for young mothers who have no support from the families; we make a small, annual contribution to their work. All of these activities are possible because of your support of the parish.
The Offertory Procession at Sunday Mass is not merely a practical necessity for getting bread and wine to the Altar, and the Offertory collection is not solely for the purpose of maintaining a minimum level of activity at the parish physical plant. Your volunteer involvement, your support of parish activities and your weekly contribution are what make All Saints able to give credible witness to the Catholic Faith.
The “spiritual” and the “material” are not two separate realms of existence. If you’ve ever lost a loved one to death, you know that the “spiritual” (a love relationship), can have a profound impact on the “material” (you and your well-being). Our spirituality as Catholics requires that we make a perceptible impact on the people around us, especially upon those in need. Jesus said, “Whoever receives one insignificant person such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” (Mark 9:37) He meant that, by showing compassion to the “invisible” members of society we make visible the God who is unseen.
Our compassion toward those in need has the capacity to make God perceptible in the world. Is there something about your world that you would change? Your support of our parish, and your volunteer involvement in your local community, transform your neighborhood and your world.