The seventeenth day of Lent

Monday after 3 Lent

As we noted last week, we begin Lent 2010 with a weakened global economy. There is no doubt that this is truly a global situation and many of the people who read websites such as this one are people who have the means to help the needy in distant countries. However, as vitally important as that is, there is also a danger in it. The danger is what we call the "mission by mail" mentality. For some people it is very easy to write a check and put it in the mail and then to feel that they have done their part. Again, we are the first to recognize that there are pressing needs in places that most people will never have the opportunity to visit personally, and writing a check is both helpful and commendable. At the same time, the fact that we have helped the needy in foreign countries should not blind us to the pressing realities of poverty, disease, and natural disasters in our own. The United States, where this writer lives, is one of the wealthiest nations in the world, and yet today we have long lines at unemployment centers, at soup kitchens, and at food banks. Hospital emergency rooms are often full of people who have nowhere else to turn for routine medical care, some communities are having to make provision for overnight parking for people who now live in their cars, and homeless shelters are taxed beyond their capacity, particularly in the winter. The prophets pronounced judgment against ancient Israel for ignoring the needy in their midst. That is a message which we need to take to heart in our own time, as well. We need also to remember that when the world was lost in sin, God did not look the other way. He came himself, in the Person of his Son.

How can you make a difference in your home community? Writing a check to the homeless shelter or giving a bag of groceries to the local food bank is not necessarily a bad way to begin. But can you, should you do more? What about volunteering at the homeless shelter or the food bank or the soup kitchen? Are you the sort of person who could be a big brother or sister, or a volunteer aide in a hospital? St Francis once said, "You may be the only Gospel your neighbor ever reads." And many years before that, St James wrote that, "faith without works is dead," and he wrote those words in the particular context of serving those in need. Let this Lent be the beginning of a renewed and personal commitment on your part to serving the needy in person. 

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