Compassionate Communities

The spa can be and often is the my barometer on the political pulse. The topic of late has been Haiti. Why are they letting them come here? Who is going to pay for their medical expenses? (You and me.) When will the orphans [actually orphans awaiting adoption by American couples] going to be sent back? Why are they letting Haitians who were already here stay for 18 months? How will they ever rebuild Haiti? These comments were bracketed by reports on the Gospel sing the night before and going to church the next day?I am not making any of these comments up. I sometimes try to interject some facts such as, “They are here to be adopted.” However, over time, I have learned that it is hard to “argue” with people who have this mindset. I think I may have to start going at another time in the day.

Fortunately, we visited a new church this Sunday, heard a great sermon, participated in a great liturgy and then read the bulletin. The pastor of St. Mary Catholic Community (Rutledge, FL), Father Nicholas King, had this printed in the bulletin:

Last week the reasons we explored for outreach to Haiti were as follows: The Incarnation (Christmas)—now we are all one.

  • They are our sisters and brothers.
  • In gratitude to God for His many gifts to us.
  • They are God’s children, all one family.
  • Eucharist means feeding one another.
  • We are the heart and hands of God.
  • Christ is present in each one of the victims.
  • It is He who has no food, home, medicine, water.
  • We are called, by name, to be a sacrament of God’s compassion.
  • Eucharist challenges us to be Christ-like.
  • We pray “thy kingdom come.”

These enunciated Gospel values have an uphill swim in the WIFM (What’s in it for me?) Looking Out for Number One American culture. Some religions are firmly grounded in Calvinistic views. If you work hard, say your prayers and go to church, God will reward you with material blessings. It s matter of morality. If you do not have material prosperity, then you have been less than industrious and have not pleased God. Christianity becomes a religion of capitalistic competition rather than a community of compassion.

Merton reminds us of the true role of church in today’s world:

There can be no question that the great crisis in the Church today is the crisis of authority brought on by the fact that the Church, as institution and organization, has in fact usurped the place of the Church as community of persons united in love and in Christ . . . Love is equated with obedience and conformity [pray and pay] within the framework of an impersonal corporation. The Church is preached as a communion, but is run in fact as a collectivity, and even as a totalitarian collectivity. (Thomas P. McDonald, “An Interview with Thomas Merton,” Motive 28 (1967), p. 41. Cited in Anthony Padovano, The Human Journey, New York: Image Books, 1984, 48)

The role of the church—any church—is to create compassionate communities.  Mercy is one of the principal attributes of God in Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Eastern religions. Our Gospel values say that, in the sight of God, we are all one, we are all called, and we are all blessed. We are created in the very image and likeness of God. All is gift, pure gift. God intends for all to share in the gifts God bestows. God want every person to have life and to have life to the full. God calls each one of us by name. God calls us to compassionate service to one another—rich and poor, Jew and Greek, male and female, gay and straight, white and black, young and old.

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