Love Your Neighbors in Your Neighborhood
No matter where we live, we are all poor people living away from our Heavenly Father
“Behold, the princes of Israel in you, every one according to his power, have been bent on shedding blood. Father and mother are treated with contempt in you; the sojourner suffers extortion in your midst; the fatherless and the widow are wronged in you.” (Ezekiel 22:6-7)
“Are you Catholic or were you raised Catholic?”
Like my new neighbors, I, too, was frustrated with looking at the garbage outside one home on the edge of our otherwise well-manicured cul-de-sac. None of us could fully escape looking at the old plastic lawn furniture among all the other rubbish in that front yard. So how did I find myself asking the woman of this depreciating property about her religion?
When I had moved from Maryland, I had been forewarned that one could not entirely escape the drug culture, that there would be at least one home different from all the others even in a good neighborhood. I could move and avoid the worst of the situation, but not entirely avoid it. And so I found this resultant dysfunction to be true in Indiana, too. But this time the name of the homeowner sent me on a mission in search of a fallen-away Catholic.
“He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is kind to the needy honors him.” (Proverbs 14:31)
No, we all agreed again that giving money to that one house was not the solution to its problems. But one neighbor got the good idea just to stop over every now and then and drop off a couple pieces of fresh fruit or vegetables. We couldn’t easily solve the bigger problem, particularly its side effect of an unsightly home exterior. But we could follow God’s Word and put love in where there was none, as St. John of the Cross advised.
And then the idea came to me to find a lost sister of faith. And yes, there was Catholicism in the family as we talked from her front door. An invitation to join me at Mass has yet to be accepted but for a smile from its recipient. And unexpectedly, a truck stopped at the house while I was mowing the lawn one day.
“Those oranges you dropped off were good.”
“Thanks for caring for me.”
I was thrilled to also learn that one family member was now employed. A neighbor mentioned that the household has a hard time accepting a divorce in their family.
“Don’t give them any help. You’ll just prolong the disfunction.”
And yet real love doesn’t intensify the suffering, the feeling of impoverishment, but rather frees a household’s members from estrangement from their real family, the family of God. St. Teresa of Calcutta was quoted as saying that we have forgotten that we belong to each other. A handout doesn’t make someone belong to a community as much as expressing loving concern, an invitation and good food freely shared with a smile.
Can just dropping off a small bag of tomatoes be that powerful in pulling someone even slightly back and out of the abyss of humanity? It has been in my new neighborhood. But it has required that I trust God’s repeated Word in Sacred Scripture to help the poor, particularly the woman without a man, be she the fatherless or the widow in one form or another. It has demanded that I ignore pre-judgment and wild predictions of disaster by other neighbors to justify simply gossiping about the one derelict home in the neighborhood.
To a certain extent, we are all poor people living away from our Heavenly Father. When I see a glimpse of him in prayer, especially at Mass or Adoration, I want to share his presence with others here in exile with me. Thank you, Father, for the power of the Real Presence in the Holy Eucharist, which has worked as the catalyst to bring back one lost sister, my neighbor, to you.