Care for the Vulnerable

The heart is the center of the human being. The heart is where we are most fully human. The Psalmist says, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your hearts.” Jeremiah (17:5-10) compares trust in human beings with trust in God. When we place our hopes and trust in human beings, we ultimately end up in an arid desert, a lava waste. There is no real life to sustain us. When we trust in God, we become like a tree by a stream. We are nurtured and we bear fruit. We seek security and freedom but our only true security and freedom comes for trust in God.

The heart is a tortuous thing. It involves many twists and turns. We cannot understand it. Trusting in God, we have to show up daily and place ourselves in God’s presence. At the bottom of all the tortuous twists and turns, we finally spiral down to the point vierge—the place where in our darkness and emptiness we encounter the light of the living God. Face to face with our own nothingness, we are in a void, an abyss. When we settle to that point, we let go and trust God. God fills our emptiness with love—pure gift, pure life, pure light. Our only mission in life is to love God and to love one another.

Like the monk, Merton, our “vocation is to pray.” Wait a minute! I live in the world and I have things to do. Agreed. If we practice contemplative prayer (Contemplation is union with God) daily and live in the present moment, our work itself becomes our prayer. After watching a video on the monks at Gethsemani, I wrote:

Chop celery.

Dish soup.

Chant psalms.

Be mindful.

Be present.

Be contemplative.

Be love.

Be God.

Love God.

Love others.

Be here.

Be now.

Be! Live!

Live now!


The rich man (Lk 16:19-31) had placed his trust in human beings. He lived the good life. He dressed in the finest purple and “ate sumptuously.” Living in America today, he would have been an ardent member of the Tea Party. His taxes and tithes supported Herod’s security forces and the Temple. He had steak and lobster and the strawberry cheesecake while the poor man ate scraps if he could find them.

In Nicaragua, my wife explained to the principal at the agricultural technical school that she could not eat most of her meal because she was having some stomach problems. The principal bought in a fine looking, polite 15 year old who finished the meal. The next day the principal, Jesus, told us that the young man ate rice and beans only twice a month. The rest of the month he subsisted on salted tortillas. In many parts of the world grain prices have risen to the point where people can no longer afford it. Rising food prices accounted for the momentum behind the change of government in Egypt. We make ethanol, corn prices rise, and then people then go hungry.

The young man and the other hungry people in the world are the poor people at the gates of the rich and powerful.  Try to ignore it as we may, the fact is that riches can be and often are an obstacle to union with God. Jesus warns us against riches. Here his point is clear. The prophets have warned us to care for the vulnerable among us. Here Jesus himself again is telling us not to amass riches and hoard them. We have a responsibility to share the bounty God has given us with others.

We Americans thrive on individualism. Today in Washington and state capitols around the nation the “rich men” are fashioning so-called fiscal reforms on the backs of the vulnerable among us.

We sometimes lack a sense of solidarity with other people. “I have got mine. You get yours, if you can” is often our theme song. Solidarity—we are all brothers and sisters and are in this together—is one of the key concepts in Catholic social teaching. Fortunately, many people are generous and use their resources to help the vulnerable among us. Nevertheless, Jesus calls for more. He calls us to do justice, to restore right order, to change the structures which perpetuate in justice.

NBC Nightly News reported on Dr. Anne Brooks who has been providing medical care for the poor at the gate in Tutwiler, Mississippi for three decades. Doctor Anne Brooks is also Sister Anne Brooks. (Don’t tell the Vatican. They might launch an investigation.) Amid reports on the revolt Libya, the bombing at the Jerusalem bus station, the continuing tragedy in Japan, and the death of Elizabeth Taylor, we had this story of compassion for the vulnerable among us—a glimmer of hope in a sea of despair. Sister Anne is living the Gospel.

More and more I am convinced that justice is THE biblical concept. Justice requires us to question our complicity in the structures and systems which keep people at the gate. Merton wrote that he was scared to have possessions because he feared that what he loved would come on the back of someone else’s sweat and misery. This shows Merton’s Franciscan heart. Francis of Assisi told the bishop that he and his followers did not have possessions because if they had possessions, they would have to have weapons to defend them.

We have found out that we cannot place our trust in the economic system; however, we still seek security and freedom in a defense budget that represents 52% of our total budget.  How often our weapons take food out of the mouths of the people at the gate! How much food, clothing, shelter, education and healthcare would just a 20% reduction in our bloated defense budget provide for people at the gate? Incidentally, we account for 50% of the world’s total defense spending. Again, where are looking for our security and freedom? Our taxes and tithes make us complicit in keeping people at the gate. As justice seekers, we must search our own hearts and deal with our own complicity. We are called to place our trust in God. We are called dismantle budget structures which keep people at the gate while others dine sumptuously.

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