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BY Melinda Selmys
the news that she was going to bear the Son of God, Mary immediately —
according to the Jerusalem
translation, “as quickly as she could” (Luke 1:39) — went on a journey into the
hill country to see her cousin Elizabeth. A treasure beyond all other treasures
had been bequeathed to her: the consolation of humankind and the solution to
all of man’s loneliness.
She did not clutch this gift to
herself, gloating over it like Golum over the One Ring, but went, without
delay, to carry her happiness to others.
It has been opined that Mary did
Elizabeth’s dishes, swept the floors, made the beds, and provided for the
material needs of an old woman who, in the latter months of pregnancy, could no
doubt use the energy of a younger girl. Yet, this is not what the Gospel
recounts: The primary good that Mary brings to her cousin is not material help,
but spiritual joy.
Christ, too, in the moment when Mary
and Elizabeth meet, affirms that the character of charity is founded in the
meeting of human hearts. His first act after the incarnation is not to reach
out to the visible and physical needs of humanity, but to enter into communion
with the invisible, secret life of the unborn John the Baptist.
Unfortunately, much of what is
called charity today is precisely the opposite. Giving money to organizations
or dropping clothes off at the Goodwill is not to be despised — the poor
certainly do need money; the naked certainly do need clothing — but it is not
enough. The greatest suffering of the poor and the wretched is not material
want, but loneliness.
It is for this reason that I have
always disagreed with those who insist that you shouldn’t give alms to beggars
because they’ll just “waste it on drugs and drink.”
Forgetting the scriptural arguments
— that Christ and the apostles both practiced and extolled almsgiving — there
is the simple fact that a coin pressed by one human hand into another conveys
something more than a mere financial transaction.
The beggar sits on the church step
or on the curb or in the doorway in a state of abject humiliation. People look
at him with condescending pity, with snide disgust, or, more often, don’t look
at him at all. He is alone, rejected and forsaken in a sea of humanity.
The money is not important: The
person who stops, hands him a fiver, and smiles has given him a nod of respect. The person who sits down beside him and
offers to share a cigarette has restored him to the level of human dignity.
need for this is everywhere. Among the elderly, abandoned by their families in
crowded institutions; among the poor, whom the world looks on with contempt;
among the imprisoned, who so often lose their families and friends during the
long years of incarceration; among the socially inept, perennially re--jected
because they are awkward or repulsive. It is the duty of those who bear the
light of Christ and the joy of human communion in their hearts to go out into
these ghettos of loneliness.
It cannot be easily done. Mother
Teresa once noted, “People who really want help may attack you if you help
them.” Her conclusion? “Help them anyway.”
especially, has the power to cramp and harden the heart. Those who have been
abandoned and rejected are often suspicious — understandably so. Go to them
anyway. Those who have been humiliated and scorned are often proud and
difficult to reach. Reach them anyway. Those who have suffered often turn to
the fleshpots — to sex, alcohol and hard drugs — in search of consolation. Do
not judge them.
charitable who are concerned with their own safety, with “comfort zones” and
“appropriate emotional distances,” are turned in on themselves from the moment
that they head out the door. They cannot reach into the loneliness of another
any more than the Pharisee could help the man beaten on the roadside without
getting blood on his shining white clothes.
did not go to Elizabeth in pride. She did not declare, “You are bearing an
ordinary child, but I bear the Son of God.” Her Magnificat is a hymn to
humility, in which she describes herself as a lowly handmaiden, favored by God.
This must always be the attitude of those who serve the lonely, for loneliness
has never been penetrated from above.
in order to enter into human loneliness, not only descended to Earth, but
emptied himself on the cross. There, in a state of total abjection, in the
final agonies of his passion, he joined himself to the loneliness of the human
heart. And there, in suffering and solidarity with the sinful and
abandoned, he established the reign of his unfathomable love.
Selmys is a staff writer