"And who is my neighbour?" [Lk. 10;29] Today, the gist of my homily for the Fifteen Sunday in Ordinary Time is, "who is my neighbour?"
The question to ask in our hearts is, "Towards who must I show love, care, compassion or forgiveness?" In others words, "Towards who must I show unconditional friendship?" To display unconditional friendship towards someone, we must stop dulling our senses. Rather than just seeing a potential act of charity towards others, we must be moved to act in words and actions.
As an unsigned cheque is of no value to us, charity without action towards our neighbours is also of no value. It does not accumulate treasures in Heaven.
Today, I would like to review some of our obligations towards our neighbours, obligations that demands our words and actions as a sign of our spiritual growth in the likeness of Christ.
1) The first thing that comes to my mind is the obligation of the parents and godparents to raise their children in the sound doctrines of the Catholic faith. Today, many Churches no longer enjoy the presence of children of all ages because the parents let their children decide for themselves what they want to do - go to Church or stay home. This attitude of spiritual freedom is a betrayal of God's gift of little souls to parents. When God entrusted the parents with the souls of newborns, it was with the expectation that the parents would teach their children to adore God on a daily basis, to desire to be in His presence, to learn right from wrong, etc... And when godparents stood in the presence of God and the Church on behalf of newborn children, they personally committed themselves to ensure that the children they sponsored would be raised in the Catholic faith. What happened to that commitment?
In some cases, not only are parents neglecting to raise their children in the Catholic faith, but they have also failed in their obligation as parents to have their children baptised. How often do we hear today that a 10 or 15 years-old child comes from a two parent Catholic family and he/she has not been baptised? What were the parents thinking? Are they not concerned for the salvation and eternal life of their children? If they do not attend to it, who will?
2) Let us consider the situation of the homeless. In some cities, they are found sleeping on the sidewalks, in back alleys, even in sewers. They have no place to wash themselves or their clothing and they eat whatever food they can gather in mice and rats infested slums.
Where are the Catholics who are reaching out to the homeless? How many of us take some of these people to our homes, allow them to wash themselves, do their laundry, give them extra clothing, or even a little food to sustain them for a few days?
3) What about those who are hungry? Are we reaching out to support anonymously the large families by providing them with a little extra food? Are we reaching out to those who have to turn to Food Banks because they do not know how to budget or they have no means of transportation to shop at grocery stores that have lower prices? How quick some are to judge minority groups that use Foods Banks. But do they understand the circumstances that lead to the creation of Food Banks?
4) How many of us are reaching out to immigrants and refugees who were forced to escape their homeland? Many shun the immigrants and are indifferent to the plight of those who have lived in Refugee Camps for years. Is this Catholic? Are we forgetting that they are human beings as we are? Are we forgetting all the children who go to bed hungry at night? Are we hardening our hearts to the point where the suffering of others has been excluded from our own personal little worlds?
5) With the growing number of seniors, do we as Christians perceive the loneliness that many elders are experiencing in their community? Some have been abandoned by their children who have moved to other cities. Others are unable to reach out and socialize because of their old age or their ill health. Trapped in solitude, they pray that someone would show care towards them, that someone would maybe take them out once in awhile to the park. What is our response to the need of these seniors? Is anyone offering to drive them to Church on Sundays so they can fulfill their Sunday obligation? Is anyone making the necessary arrangements so they can receive the Sacrament of the Holy Eucharist if they are bedridden?
6) What about the issue of orphans and adoption? Many claim that there are no orphans available for adoption. Is this true? While there may not be many healthy babies with blue eyes and blond hair, there are many children with special needs who are available for adoption. Why do many of these children have special needs? It is because, over and over, they have been rejected by the adult world that wants to adopt well behaved "statues," not active little boys and girls. These children have special needs because few want to be part of their lives, just as few of us in this parish, if any of us, are part of their lives. What will become of these unloved children who may pass through twenty different group homes before they are released in the world as adults?
7) What about the persecuted? Do we speak up when we see a child bullied on the street? Do we speak up when we hear of prejudice against minority groups? Do we speak up when we see minors showing disrespect towards elders or when we are aware of ongoing spousal abuse, be it against the husband or the wife?
8) Who else are our neighbours? The prisoners! Yes, even if we do not want to hear about it, the prisoners are also our neighbours. That includes the murderers, the rapists and the child molesters. To exclude these Catholics as our neighbours, it is to be dishonest to ourselves by rejecting the message of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we neglect the salvation of these souls by refusing to share the Gospel of Christ with them, who will bring the Good News of the Kingdom of God to them? Dare we appear before the Lord God for judgment after having closed our eyes to their spiritual needs?
9) What about those prostitutes on the street, some of them being so young that it is shameful to just think about it? Who is reaching out to these young girls? Are we ready to help those girls who have run away from home for whatever reason? How many of them were raped before they turned to prostitution? How many of them are selling their bodies because their pimps are providing them with food, shelter and false love? Is it so hard for us to reach out to them, to open our homes to them, to help them return to school so they can finish their education? What are we doing to help them?
10) At the service of all of us is the International Red Cross that helps the victims of disasters. Most of all, when asked to support the Red Cross, we gladly give a few dollars here and there. Should that be the end of our obligation? Are we not also obligated to go further to help our neighbours by volunteering with the agency? What good is money if there are no loving neighbours volunteering to help and support those who are experiencing a disaster? Money does not provide a shoulder to cry on. Nor does it provide manpower to dig for those who have been buried alive during earthquakes.
11) Are we helping our neighbours who are handicapped or sick? Are we not obligated through our Christian love, if necessary, to push our handicapped or our sick neighbours in their wheelchairs if they wish to go outside for awhile for fresh air? If they cannot do it on their own and we are not being neighbourly, who will do it?
12) How about the single parents and widows who must bear the burden alone of raising their children? Are we there for them as good samaritans? Are we offering our services as babysitters so they can get an hour off here and there? Are we offering assistance with cooking or house cleaning? If these parents hold a job, do we wholeheartedly offer our service to babysit their children who are absent from school because of illness? Or do we just say, "It is her/his problem."
13) What about all these young girls who are considering an abortion? Are we there for them? Are we there to help them through their pregnancy? Are we ready to commit ourselves to help them raise their child? Are we willing to walk that extra mile to save an unborn child and the soul of its mother?
My brothers and sisters in Christ, many are the needs of our neighbours. What I have mentioned is but a short list of neighbourly needs. Who is my neighbour? It is the one who needs my friendship, especially those who have not received it as of yet!
The Lord God commanded us to observe His commandments and decrees with all our heart and all our soul. That includes to loves our neighbours. That commandment of Jesus is not too hard. It is not out of our reach, in Heaven or beyond the sea. Our neighbours are all around us. Our obligations consist of raising our children in the faith, providing for the homeless, feeding the hungry, helping the refugees and the immigrants, tending to the seniors, adopting the orphans, defending those who are persecuted, bringing the Gospel to the prisoners, reaching out to the prostitutes, etc... These are our neighbours, my neighbours, your neighbours.
What we do for them, we do for the Lord Jesus. By reaching out to those in need, we reach out to Jesus. By refusing to extend our friendship to those in need, we are withholding our friendship from Jesus.
My brothers and sisters, this week, let each and everyone of us review the level of our spiritual relationship with our neighbours. Are we doing what Jesus wants us to do or are we doing what we want to do? By the grace of God, if the necessity is there, let us reach out to our neighbours in need by extending our friendship as children of God.