by Bill Scholl
Once, not so long ago, rich and poor worshiped together in the same parish.
However, with the advent of automobiles and suburbs, our parishes have become economically segregated. Those who had more made the exodus out of the urban core and into the suburbs — for more land, better schools and bigger homes — and the poor remained.
Now, for many of us, when Jesus talks about the poor, it is hard to think of someone we actually know. Stereotypes fill the void, and tempt us to think they have brought it on themselves through addiction or bad choices. We snark on Facebook about Vision-card moms, ahead of us at the grocery, who seem to eat better than we do. If we are not careful, we can take Jesus’ admonition — “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me” (Mt 26:11) — as a way out. We excuse ourselves from mercy, and so segregate our charity.
Saint Faustina Kowalska wrote a diary of her encounters with Jesus. Jesus tells her quite plainly that while there may be a feast of mercy (we now know this as Divine Mercy Sunday), “You are to show mercy to our neighbors always and everywhere. You must not shrink from this or try to absolve yourself from it” (Diary 1109).
We want to be excused from loving people who are other. We want a pass because somehow at this time, at this moment, showing mercy shouldn’t apply to us. We want to believe we are entitled to opt out for any number of reasons: We’re busy, we’re broke, we’re tired, we’re wounded, and the reasons go on and on.
But Pope Francis’ message for this Lent challenges us to get out of ourselves and “distrust a charity that costs nothing and does not hurt.”
As we arrive again at Palm Sunday, it is not too late for charity and alms, even as we wave our branches in welcome.
While Lent focuses our attentions on prayer, fasting and almsgiving, it doesn’t mean these are the only times we practice such attention to charity.
As we come close to the cross on Good Friday, surely we are struck at how Jesus held nothing of himself back from love of us.
And when we encounter the resurrected Christ, that God-Man on whom our very faith rests, we must practice that joy. We must love as he loves. We must not exclude ourselves from giving Christ’s love by segregating ourselves from those in most need of our charity. It may be a bit of a drive, but it’s worth the trip.