Friday, March 13, 2009

The least of these

The threefold Lenten discipline of prayer, fasting, and giving can and should have a purifying and clarifying effect. Prayer and fasting lead the soul to generous giving. Fasting and giving lead the soul to reflective prayer. The following is a personal story, covering the past 36 years or so.

I was a young man in 1973 when Roe v. Wade shocked the American culture. From the very beginning, I knew that was wrong, and must be reversed. But within a fairly short span, I let myself be cowed by more liberal thinkers into a broader way of viewing things. Restoring legal status to the unborn, while important, was just one of many equally important issues. We must not become too narrow-minded; we must not be single-issue voters and thinkers. That much was axiomatic.

Pre-born sucking his thumb I believe it was through prayer and fasting that I eventually came to consider more thoughtfully the essence of giving to the poor. The Gospel passage that grabbed me at some point was Mt.25:31-46. This well-known story tells of the return of the King at the end, how he separates the sheep from the goats, judges them on the basis of how they gave to the poor and needy, and issues this divine judgement: " you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." (Mt.25:40b RSV)

And who, I pondered, are the very least of my brethren? Who are the poorest of the poor? To whom should I be especially generous, so as to be found giving to the Lord Himself?

There are poor people right here, even in my home town. I must give to them, and so I shall. But - are they the very least? Well, those in third-world countries are certainly poorer. Are they the least? What about those who actually die in war or in natural disasters? Loss of life is certainly more serious than mere poverty. Are these the least?

You already know where this leads. I was eventually forced to see that there was no greater poverty than that suffered by those who were wholly innocent and also wholly defenseless. These little ones could not even raise their voices in a plaintive cry for help. These were the very least. Giving to these would be giving to Jesus.

With renewed clarity of vision, I was cowed no longer. Although often unfaithful, and frequently forgetful, I have since endeavored to make this a major focus of my life, liberal goats notwithstanding.

No comments: