“Shelter the homeless”
“The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Mt 8:20). Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son of God, was born in a borrowed manger, had no fixed address once he began his public ministry, and was buried in another man’s grave. It is quite an irony: He who made the universe became a homeless person.
The news makes us aware of the plight of millions of refugees driven from their homes by war, but homelessness is literally also right on our doorstep. Because the problem is perennial, there is a danger that, like the rich man in the parable, we no longer see the Lazarus we practically have to step over.
This corporal work of mercy forces us to open our eyes to the misery of those who, for a variety of reasons, have no place they can call home. We make considerable efforts to shelter dogs and cats, but we can become numb to the fate of our own brothers and sisters.
Locally, we have one actual “shelter:” the Salvation Army. Obviously, they have a limited number of spaces on any given day. Eligibility is contingent on numerous elements. While it makes sense that a person is held to a certain code of conduct in order to be able to stay, there are people who, because of a past record, are automatically disqualified. It is likely that a considerable percentage of this vulnerable population live with mental illness. It can be easy to make some snap judgments about a person’s character, meanwhile missing the layer-upon-layer of obstacles he or she faces at every turn. At the very least, a greeting extended to a person we encounter “on the street”—acknowledging that we are encountering a human being and not a commodity—ought to be within every Catholic Christian’s sphere of conduct.
This work of mercy also invites to ask ourselves how hospitable we are. Do we make of our home a place where guests feel welcome and cherished? Do we create an environment where those who are not literally homeless but feel adrift and isolated find a welcome? The Letter to the Hebrews urges us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2). Sometimes it is easier to imagine that the stranger might be an angel than it is to see that someone in our own family or among acquaintances is one. In short, this work of mercy can be summed up in the direct words of the Rule of St. Benedict: “Let all guests be received like Christ.”
Once again, we thank the website, jubileeofmercy-eb.org for the main portion of these reflections.