For centuries, an argument has been waged about whether or not we are our brother's keeper. The question, based on the passage in the Book of Genesis where God asks Cain where his brother Abel is after Cain has killed Abel, is one of the most profound that we can ask ourselves at this time of the year.
We are in the midst of what we call the giving season. It is a time when thoughts of what to buy family and friends for Christmas takes center stage. We rush to malls, to department stores, to box stores, or go online to purchase the latest fad or trendy item. We decorate our homes in honor of the upcoming celebration. We reunite with those who we may not have seen since last year at this same time. Our lives are a blur as December speeds by at an incredible speed. And, before you know it, Christmas dinner at grandma's and grandpa's has been enjoyed, the dishes washed and put away, and the treasures so sought after have emerged from their cocoons of brightly colored paper and ribbon. 'Tis the season for celebration and rightly so, for this is the season that we celebrate the coming of the Savior into the world to redeem us.
During this time of preparation as we hurry about, one of the most familiar and best loved customs we all encounter is that of the bell ringer posted outside nearly every business. Volunteers brave sometimes brutal temperature to ring simple little bells to gently remind us of the needs of so many others. Many of us dig into our pockets for loose change to put in the little red kettles. Once our deposit is made and "Merry Christmas" is exchanged with the ringer, we go on our way seldom giving further thought to those to whom we have just contributed. Life just seems too busy to dwell on the sad plight that so many others endure. And, besides, by giving to the little red kettle, we've helped out.
While this is true and I am not disparaging anyone who gives to the needy at this time of the year, I would like to urge you to give further thought to the people you have just reached out to help.
Who, among those who may be reading this at this moment, knows what it is to be homeless? Who among most of us knows the agony and the pain of the uncertainty of not knowing where your next meal may be coming from? Do we truly understand what it is like to be faced with living in the open on bitterly cold winter nights under overpasses, in dark alleys, or anything that may give us shelter from the often deadly winds and the chill they bring? Does any of us know what it is like to go weeks and perhaps months without bathing, walking the streets in tattered and torn clothes and in shoes that have been worn so long that there is barely a sole between us and the sidewalk? Has any of us experienced carrying around our worldly possessions in a couple of plastic bags as we make our daily rounds of hotel and restaurant dumpsters for our daily bread?
There are nearly countless numbers of people, men, women, and children, doing these things-and more-right now just to survive. Not far from where you live, there is likely to be someone trying to find a "warm" place in which to spend the night out of harm's way and the below zero wind chills sweeping through December. Many may have been only a few weeks ago, in circumstances similar to yours. Perhaps they had a job and were able to pay the mortgage or rent, put food on the table and even have a little left over for some much needed relaxation. And then came the announcement that the job was being eliminated due to the slumping economy. Many, having never been faced with such a possibility, simply panic, not knowing what to do or to whom to turn. The fact is that none of us knows when or if we may have the same things happen to us.
We who have been blessed with abundance must do whatever we can to ease the burdens of those who have little or nothing. And we must do so year round, not just during the Christmas season when we are reminded of such unpleasantness. What have you done to reach out to the poor? Each individual has to decide what they can do and then simply do it. You do not have to do anything spectacular. It can be as simple as donating canned goods to the local food pantry. You may volunteer to teach reading to an adult who never learned how to read thus opening the door up to possible more gainful employment. You may chose to send a financial contribution to a favorite charity.
Whatever you do, do it with the following words in mind. "As you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me." (Mt 25: 40) It is a reminder that nothing is done in vain as long as we do it to honor Him who came among us at this time of year. When we reach out to others we reach out to the very source of life. What better way to usher in the Christmas season than to meet Christ in the very hearts and souls of those who are so needy. Celebrate your blessings with others and you will become a blessing to them. This will make for a truly Merry Christmas far beyond any other gift!