The poor will forgive you

Readings: Ez. 34.1-17; Ps. 23; 1 Cor. 15.20-28; Mt. 25.31-46

St. Vincent de Paul lived in 17th century France. The country was suffering from external wars plus civil war. Marching troops destroyed crops and the agricultural economy. People became displaced, and refugees left the depleted countryside and swarmed into the city of Paris. Soon, beggars overran the capital. Beggars would break the arms and legs of their young children in order to win sympathy to gain a coin or two. A remnant of the bubonic plague swept through Paris and much of France; people stayed inside their homes, and placed the dead outside in the streets. In this context, Vincent de Paul dedicated the second half of his 80-year life to caring for the poor. He organized soup kitchens, food banks, and thrift-clothing centers. He needed help so he called upon financially well-off women to form the Ladies of Charity. They were very good hearted, but unaccustomed to working in soup kitchens, and so they sent their servants. Vincent needed dependable people, so with the widow St. Louise de Marillac, he formed the Daughters of Charity. Later, this good man was chosen as the universal patron for what we know as the St. Vincent de Paul Societies.

A phrase on our marquee quotes St. Vincent: "the poor will forgive you, the bread that you give them, only by the love that you show them." People with pride hesitate to accept hand-outs. Vincent knew these poor needed help, but it goes against most people's grain to accept help. Vincent knew it wasn't their fault that the country was fighting continuous wars. It wasn't their fault, that they had become physically ill or broken in body. It wasn't their fault that the national economy had collapsed. How could Vincent adequately meet these poor people? He did it in this fashion. Vincent approached people in need as their brother, as one of them, as a brother in Christ who loved each of them. Vincent loved God and all God's people. His advice is profound: "the poor will forgive you, the bread that you give them, only by the love that you show them."

Our country and our world are going through difficult economic times. We are also going through difficult moral times. God has made each of us good in our being. At times, we all choose to do bad in our behavior. Deep down, we all yearn to do good. In this season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, undoubtedly every person here will reach down deep to help people in need with food, clothing, rent money, gas money, and other practical needs. May I suggest that we do these good deeds in the spirit of Jesus Christ, and in the practical ways that St. Vincent and St. Louise acted. God has made us all brothers and sisters; we have one common Father in heaven. We have common human experiences too. Who of us has not experienced hard times, at some time in our life? Most of us grew up with a whole lot less than we have now. And so let's be quick to help out our extended family of brothers and sisters. And, let's do it in the spirit of Jesus, and his saints. Experience the profound oneness in God with each person whom you help. Feel the oneness in human experience with each person whom you help. As St. Paul says, "Do everything with love." As St. Vincent instructs us, "The poor will forgive you the bread that you give them, only by the love that you show them."

Today we celebrate the solemnity of the feast of Christ the King. This is the last week of the Church's 52-week liturgical year. The year began with Advent, passed through Christmas, ordinary time, Lent and Christianity's greatest feast which is Easter, and now culminates in the feast of Christ the King. Note the scriptural reading which the Church chooses for this feast: Ezekiel speaks of God's compassion and pastoral care: "I will pasture my sheep. I will give them rest. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal." The gospel presents a criterion for the last judgment. "When I was hungry, did you give me to eat. When I was thirsty, did you give me to drink? When I was naked, did you clothe me? When I was sick or imprisoned, did you visit me? Whatever you do to the least of my brothers and sisters, that you do unto me."

On this feast of Christ the King, in this season of Thanksgiving and Christmas, we want to do whatever we can to develop "the Kingdom on earth as it is heaven." Our inspiration and motivation for doing this is Jesus Christ, the Scriptures, and the saints, especially today, St. Vincent de Paul and St. Louise de Marillac. In order to make the world a better place, in order to develop further the Kingdom of god on earth, be sure to keep the faith, spread the faith, and put your faith into action. Let's heed the warning of Jesus Christ in today's gospel, and the practical example of St. Vincent de Paul.

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley