­This week we will focus on the next corporal works of mercy, “harbor the harborless” (shelter the homeless). The Vatican highlighted this particular work of mercy this year when the new “Gift of Mercy” homeless shelter was established in October. Even Pope Francis made a surprise visit.

­­­

The Vatican’s latest initiative was part of a much larger effort to serve the homeless men and women of Rome. Earlier this year Pope Francis established showers, bathrooms and a barbershop inside the Vatican.

Pope Francis is trying to lead by example and show the world that we need to care for the homeless and not debase or humiliate them. Often homeless people are avoided on the streets and are seen as an embarrassment to society.

The Christian response should not be one of scorn, but of encounter. In particular, we should keep these two Scripture passages in mind when serving the homeless:

“Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

“Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31)

We often forget that we could be the ones on the side of the street, begging for money and a place to stay.

Personally, I think a vital part of our Christian formation should be spending a few days with the homeless of our community. This would obviously vary from city-to-city, but it would give us a new lens to view the homeless. Living the life of a homeless person is something very few of us have ever done and our ignorance of the real struggles homeless people have can negatively impact our worldview.

I believe a large reason why we in America debase the homeless, is because we firmly abide by the principle that we are the masters of our own destiny. We hold on high the “virtue” of individualism and can’t understand why the homeless won’t “get a job.”

For example, it is cowardly to ask for help in our country, which becomes a double-edged sword. This means that the homeless are afraid of asking their friends and family for support and also that their friends and family are reluctant to offer any help. What results is a person who is afraid and alone in a society that doesn’t care about them and tells them that they should be able to be successful without relying on anyone.

This is truly a shame and needs to be corrected. We need to view ourselves in a much larger context and not only seek our personal gain. The failures of the homeless in our community should matter to us and we should try to lift them up instead of tuck them away in a corner.

As we start this Jubilee Year of Mercy, let us not avoid those in our society who made mistakes and are suffering the consequences of them. Instead, let us encounter the lost and dejected and put ourselves in their shoes, realizing that we could easily be the ones who are in need of Christian charity.