Keep the poor ever in your heart and actions

Kathleen Giffin

WORD MADE FLESH

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 30, 2015
Deuteronomy 4.1-2, 6-8 | Psalm 15 | James 1.17-18, 21-22, 27 | Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23
August 17, 2015

I recently heard of a practice that has purportedly risen in Naples in response to the poor in their midst. People will buy a coffee or sandwich in the shops and pay for an extra one "pending." The people on the street know they can go to certain shops and ask if there are any coffees or lunches pending. If someone has paid ahead for one, they get what they need.

It is a lovely idea. Our local Tim Hortons often has a variation of this theme. Someone in the drive-through will pay for the person behind them, not even knowing who they are.

But in this case, the person behind them can afford to pay for what they have ordered, so the gesture, as warm as it is, does not reach out to the poor.

The readings this Sunday speak of the necessity of putting our faith into action, of the need to concretely live out our love for God and neighbour. Pious sentiments, religious practices and holy aspirations will only take us so far.

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above. - James 1.17

'Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above.'

James 1.17

They are no substitute for the active expression of our love by caring for those in our midst who are most vulnerable, the "widows and orphans" of our society.

I think many people are uncertain as to how to be helpful to those in distress. Whether we give directly to those in need, support charities who do so or work for social change that addresses the problems marginalized people face, we can wonder if our efforts are enough, if they are effective.

Perhaps it is helpful to consider this from another perspective - the question of what occupies, what concerns our heart and mind.

Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah, saying, "This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me." He goes on to chastise the people, saying that it is from their hearts that evil comes, that the greed, envy, and pride in their heart is the source of their evil intentions.

What occupies my heart and mind? Mostly my plans, my people, my concerns and duties. Sometimes there will be a project that purely and directly benefits others; mostly it is my own interests that occupy my mind.

When I go to buy a coffee, do I think of the person who can't afford one? Not usually. When I go to the grocery store do I think about those who are hungry? Rarely. It is not so much my charitable giving that needs to change, it is my heart.

My duty to share my goods is acted upon, but my heart is not occupied with the concerns of those who cannot care for themselves.

James tells us we must act to care for the needy. Jesus tells us our hearts must be occupied with love for them.

How then do our hearts change? It is both by actions and the reflection upon those actions that we find ourselves moving towards a new heart, that we open ourselves to grace.

(Kathleen Giffin kgif@telus.net)