One of the great claims of atheists and agnostics is that they do not need to have faith in order to be good people. Certainly over the past few decades we have seen growth in volunteerism from many different sectors of society. It seems that there is always a walk-for-something or a go-fund-me page to help a needy situation. There has been much consternation over the slow response to relief efforts in Puerto Rico after the devastation of Hurricane Maria in September.
It is the time of the year from Thanksgiving to Christmas which brings out our generosity. Every social organization conducts some sort of outreach. We are people noted for our generosity both at home and abroad.
This Solemnity of Christ the King draws our attention to the final judgment. How we put our faith into practice each and every day is the question that we are asked in the final judgment as Jesus separates the sheep from the goats.
Is it enough to volunteer to do good for the sake of doing good, or do we do the good for others because Christ demands it of us? Is it enough to be a good humanitarian minus religious faith, or is what I do with my life necessarily predicated on my faith?
It is easy to do the big stuff. We can all write checks for charity drives or donate articles of used clothing for someone else to wear. We can also become desensitized from the needs of others. Walking along the streets of New York can be a way in which we avoid the desperate poverty in front of us. Overly dramatic television commercials do not move most of us to write a check. There is a sense of detachment from real suffering that insulates us from it.
We encounter Jesus Christ every day and in every person whom we meet. The big question for most of us is, “do I really believe that I am encountering Christ in all the people I meet?” Some of them are despicable (to us) and some of them are suffering at their own hands – addiction or a disease brought on by lifestyle. In the midst of suffering, poverty, homelessness, we can easily become judgmental. This attitude is, though, a defense mechanism against having to face its reality.
Jesus did not instruct us to make value judgements about the people we encounter. We are not called upon to visit only those who are in prison because of religious persecution; or to only feed the righteous poor, or clothe the naked who have lost everything for the sake of the Gospel. We are to visit the prisoner regardless of the crime and to feed and clothe all people while not considering how it is that they have gotten that way.
It is our first responsibility to be with those people. To be Christ caring for Christ in others is the demand of discipleship. When we visit Christ in prison, encounter Christ in the poor and in the homeless, it is then that we full the demands of the Gospel. In a sense it is the necessary completion of the first two demands discussed in last week’s article.
To be truly ready and prepared for the coming of the Lord we must actually go out and encounter him in the world, for it is in others that we first encounter him.
Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.[[In-content Ad]]