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November 18, 2020

Is our Church prepared to be bruised, hurting and dirty?

Pope Francis greets an elderly woman as he meets with people in a poor neighborhood in Asuncion, Paraguay, in this July 12, 2015, file photo. Pastoral care of the poor and those in need has been emphasis of the pontificate of Pope Francis. (CNS photo/Paul Haring) See VATICAN-LETTER-LATIN-AMERICA July 14, 2016.

By Leela Ramdeen, Chair, CCSJ & Director, CREDI

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Jesus Christ King of the Universe. Pope Francis urges us to “embrace the Gospel as the compass of our lives.” Today’s Gospel (Matt 25:31–46) shows us where “true North” lies.

The three previous parables in recent gospel readings set the scene for today’s gospel—the final judgement. How we live our lives; how we follow His commandment to LOVE Him and our neighbour will be the determining factor. As Pope Francis states: “The starting point of salvation is not the confession of the sovereignty of Christ, but rather the imitation of Jesus’ works of mercy through which he brought about his kingdom. The one who accomplishes these works shows that he has welcomed Christ’s sovereignty, because he has opened his heart to God’s charity. In the twilight of life, we will be judged on our love for, closeness to and tenderness towards our brothers and sisters”.

Justice, Peace, and Community Week ended yesterday, November 21. Pope Francis asked us to reflect on his Message: “Stretch forth your hand to the poor” (Sirach 7:32).

I hope that during the past week we have been moved to open our hearts a bit more to see Christ in the faces of the poor, the marginalised, those who are socially excluded, and that we have committed to go the extra mile to build right relationships with our brothers and sisters who continue to hang on at the fringes of society.

I came across the work of one Shane Claiborne, an activist, and bestselling author who worked with St Teresa of Calcutta. He has said: “Things get messy when people begin moving beyond charity and toward justice and solidarity with the poor and oppressed. Once we are actually friends with the folks in struggle, we start to ask why people are poor, which is never as popular as giving to charity.”

Building right relationships can be “messy”, but if we say that we are followers of Christ, then we have to roll up our proverbial sleeves and do what Jesus would expect of us.

Remember Pope Francis’ words: “I prefer a church which is bruised, hurting and dirty because it has been out on the streets, rather than a church which is unhealthy from being confined and from clinging to its own security.”

Stretching forth our hand to the poor involves more than giving charity. If we are to do as the prophet Amos said and “let justice flow like water” (Amos 5:24), we have to be prepared to address the root causes of poverty and social exclusion. I share one example of how one can go the extra mile.

A few years ago I delivered a lecture to some primary school principals and asked for some examples of how one can act justly—as per Micah 6:8. One principal spoke about a young student who was always late for school and would often fall asleep in class.

He discerned that the student was reluctant to share information with him, so he decided to arrange to visit his home. After spending some time trying to convince the parent via telephone, that he just wanted to help if he could, the student’s mother allowed him to visit.

I will not go into details about what he discovered. Suffice it to say that once he learned about the range and extent of responsibilities “thrown” on the shoulders of the nine-year-old student, and the living conditions in which he lived, it was no wonder that he often arrived late and often fell asleep in class. The principal and staff devised strategies to alleviate some of the challenges the family faced.

It is so easy for us to sit in our comfort zone and ignore the plight of our neighbour, to walk on the other side as the priest and Levite do in the parable of the Good Samaritan.

Love is an active verb. If the Eucharist is the source and summit of Christian life, we must go out into the world after Mass to love and serve the Lord, glorifying Him by our lives.

On this Feast of Christ the King, let us commit to put Christ at the centre of our lives. Only then will we recognise Him in the faces of the poor, the hungry, the migrant/other, the sick, the prisoner. May we learn to serve the “least of these”, our brothers and sisters.