Beginning at Home (Christ the King)

On my daily commute, I pass by Holy Redeemer Catholic Church on New York Avenue in the District. One morning, from my comfortable car as I sipped my coffee, I saw in the church doorway a rough-looking homeless man who had obviously spent the night there. And to my shame, I have to confess that my first thought was: “Thank God I don’t have to deal with that.”

Today’s gospel reminds me, as it reminds all of us, that we do have to deal with that- or with “them,” to be more precise. As we heard, Christ our King calls us to serve him by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting prisoners, caring for the sick, and welcoming the stranger. Our tradition refers to these as the “Corporal Acts of Mercy.”

Throughout his ministry, Jesus taught that there can be no real relationship with him if we neglect the poor and ignore the needy. Unfortunately, we don’t always take our Lord’s words seriously enough. As  Fr. Benedict Groeschel once wrote: “I am astonished when I see so many sincere Christians afraid or disinclined to find (Jesus) where he teaches he can be found, namely, among the poor.”

If we don’t avoid the poor and needy outright, we can sometimes avoid our responsibility to help them by “spiritualizing” our response. What I mean by this is expressed by a well-known anonymous passage. It says, “I was hungry, and you formed a humanities groups to discuss my hunger. I was imprisoned, and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release. I was naked, and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance. I was sick, and you knelt and thanked God for your health. I was homeless, and you spoke to me of the spiritual shelter of God’s love. I was lonely, and you left me alone to pray for me. You seem so holy, so close to God. But I am still very hungry and lonely and cold.”

We hear things like this, and we probably feel a little bit guilty. We think of all the people we aren’t helping, and we feel frustrated. The needs are so great, and we don’t even know these people. Just what does Jesus expect us to do?

Jesus invites us to begin at home. You and I learn to love one another and to meet each other’s needs from our families. The expression “Charity begins at home” has a great deal of truth to it. We’ll likely not have the compassion and generosity we need to serve the poor and the needy unless we first learn and practice those virtues in the community of our relatives and friends.

Possibly we grew up in families in which members served one another and the community. Hopefully, we have learned to be servants from them. However, it is very possible that we did not, especially since we live in such a selfish culture. The first sentence of a very popular Christian book is: “It’s not about you.” The author says this because our culture so often tells us: It is about you! Our culture breeds selfishness. And selfish people aren’t inclined to serve the needs of others.

This selfishness can be reinforced by some of the choices families make today. Because their kids are so over-scheduled with sports, clubs, and other activities, their parents feel guilty about giving them chores. The effect of this, however, is that kids don’t learn to serve the needs of the family by helping around the house. All of their activities are about their development, their advancement, and their amusement, and not about the common good. And they become selfish. So if you have children at home, I strongly encourage you to give them age-appropriate chores.

Another simple thing families can do to teach and create an atmosphere of service can be done around the dinner table. Each family member, one at a time, thanks the other family members for the ways they had served them or met their needs that day. For example: “I’m grateful to Charlie for helping me pick up my toys. I’m grateful to Mommy for helping me with my homework. I’m grateful to Dad for taking me to Cub Scouts. I’m grateful to Winnie for having been so cooperative when it was time to leave the playground.” Doing this reinforces the idea that family members should cooperate with each other, help each other, and serve one another. We did this in my family after having been introduced to it at a family retreat, and it was a real blessing to us.

I would encourage you to think today about your families and friends in light of Jesus’ words in today’s gospel. Hopefully they’re adequately fed and clothed. If they are, then those needs have been met. But there are so many other needs. Needs that maybe we don’t recognize. Needs that maybe we’ve been ignoring. For instance: Do they need to be nourished by our presence? Are they starving for our affection? Do they hunger for our forgiveness? Have we stripped them naked by our insults and negativity? Do they need to be clothed with our encouragement and affirmation? Have they become strangers to us? Do we need to welcome them back into our lives? Do they feel imprisoned by dehumanizing jobs or the overwhelming demands of family life? Do we need to visit them with our help, understanding, and compassion? And when they’re sick, how do we respond? Is it an inconvenience to us? Do we get annoyed? Or do we heal them with our attention and loving care?

These are just some of the needs of those we love. And when we learn to serve them by meeting these needs, we’ll come to find ourselves far more willing and open to serve the needs of others, as Christ has commanded us to do. Instead of saying, “Thank God I don’t have to deal with that” maybe we’ll say “Thank God I can!”

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons, Wikipedia Commons, Wikipedia Commons

10 Replies to “Beginning at Home (Christ the King)”

  1. It’s so easy to just look away and ignore those that are in need. Sometimes just a friendly smile, a look in the eye, a calm voice tells them God is there.

  2. What an inspiring meditation! The beginning was a real attention-grabber. It certainly made me take a better look at what I am doing and not doing. Thank you.

  3. Sometimes it’s a division between, “Did we do something or did we do nothing”?. Thank you so very much for this article and God bless you.

  4. There is this lady in our RCIA class and something about her that makes me sad. Her hair is falling out so she always wears a parka with the hood over hear head. Her face has bandages on it but always the same place week after week.

    Her son is always with her, I recognize him because he goes to the same magnet school as my son so he’s smart, get good grades etc or they wouldn’t have him. The church has food before the class and we all eat happily. I joked with him “No food for you today!” He looked at me with this serious expression and said “I’m very hungry today”. “Just kidding son, eat away” I said making a mental note no joking about food as he piles cream cheese on his bagel a mile high.

    Then the Sister was near me as I sat and the sick lady comes up and is talking to her and I didn’t pay much attention until the Sister started digging away in her little purse. Then I listen and the sick lady is begging for money because her car ran out of gas some way from the church. I was taken aback and started digging in my own wallet not wanting the Sister to have to give to the poor, silly idea why would I take that from her.

    The Sister pulls out a twenty and said “Here, somebody pressed this in my hand yesterday you take it and use it to buy gas”. I found a five and feeling sheepish I said “Here take this as well”. It was all I had as I’m just as poor as the Sister. Not complaining, the children always have plenty of food (unlike the sick ladie’s son) and the bills are paid.

    The lady comes up behind me as I’m sitting in my chair and hugs and thanks me. I of course tell her it’s nothing but secretly I feel uncomfortable about the touching. I lost my love years ago and this was way outside my comfort zone. I just wanted her to stop that but she beamed down at me and forced me to endure the attention with good nature.

    Later the Sister told her a man was coming to take her to her car but after class of course. I love that Sister, she is 90 and has done this always.

    It reminded me of the one of the mysteries we announce when praying the Rosary. And as you go, preach, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give.

  5. I remember that story from one of your homilies at the Pastoral Center. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. @Glenn- As Mother Teresa once said, “You never know how much a smile can do.”
    @Kay- Yes please!
    @Peter and Sherry- You’re welcome!
    @Kevin- God bless you for your kindness, and for sharing your faith.
    @Tamara- Yes, we’re all impoverished in some way. Thanks for the reminder.

  7. nice note. the most striking thing about the gospel on the feast of Christ the King – there was nothing about the king. It was all about feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and the many ways that we could be Christ to the least of our brothers and sisters. It is a reminder that we live in a “quid pro quo” society. Thanks for the reminder to “see the least of my brothers in the neighborhood” and to give some of what Christ gave to me. I recall a great line that I try to remember to put into practice when I travel with my eyes opened. It is “You have not really given until you give to one who has nothing of the world to give in return.” It is when you give to that person that you meet Christ, and it is so easy to forget. Thanks, Father Hurd.

  8. @Deacon Tilghman- Thanks for the kind words and for sharing the fantastic quote about giving, which I will keep and treasure.

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