Monday, March 30, 2020



While like most people adhering to self-isolation as a senior, charitable distancing as a human being, when going for a walk, not all people are being so observant which begs the question how utterly selfish and frankly dumb are they? Further having had to go for a few groceries, the malls in this city are now locked down, the only doors open are from the outside directly into the supermarket or drug store, anyway I noticed stacks of toilet paper behind the service counter with a security guard on duty. The supermarket is trying to stop hoarding of toilet paper. Why people have gone nuts over toilet paper boggles the mind!

 Sacred Scripture teaches the human family what the experience of the ages confirms: that while human progress is a great advantage to man, it brings with it a strong temptation. For when the order of values is jumbled and bad is mixed with the good, individuals and groups pay heed solely to their own interests, and not to those of others. Thus, it happens that the world ceases to be a place of true brotherhood. [1]

When our sense of things is that everything in our lives is going well and nothing in particular exceeds the normal challenges of daily life, being aware of, kind to and sharing with others tends not to be too much of a challenge. When it seems as if everything is going wrong, is out of control, we are fearful of loss of love, food, shelter etc., such as many experience in this new normal, bending towards ourselves can become obsessive.

For the homeless, and others for whom the streets are the place where through drug dealing or prostitution, at the lowest, most dangerous level of eking out a living, there rarely are any good days. Most of us never see among such of our brothers and sisters the kind and selfless gestures of one to another.

Today’s Holy Gospel is from John 8:1-11, the story of Jesus’ compassion and admonition, for the woman caught in adultery.

The men who brought her, with such hardhearted contempt, to Jesus, are prime examples of how bending towards ourselves morphs into obsessive disdain for others, blinds us to seeing others as one like ourselves, that is persons, children of God, our brothers and sisters.

Over fifty years ago a homeless woman who sold herself daily for drug money, yet had not lost her awareness of others in need, quite literally saved my life and paid the ultimate price, by the very man she had saved me from, thus as my true sister, showing that great love of which Jesus says there is none greater: John 15:13.

I was working in a soup kitchen in those days and, given many of the homeless have serious mental health and addiction issues, it was critical if we saw any disturbance starting we staff move in quickly to prevent things getting out of control.

One day a very big man started pounding on a much smaller man and we separated them, one staffer tending to the victim, three of us getting the brute out of the building. The woman at the heart of this story had watched all this happen, her eyes filled with fear.

At dusk it was my duty to circle the building making sure all doors were secured and keeping an eye for any homeless brother or sister laying on the sidewalk or in the alley needing attention. As I came to the last door, which was at the end of an alley, closed by a wall just past the last door, I heard the sound of breaking glass and almost simultaneously was grabbed, and the broken bottle was pushed towards my throat.

It was the brute.

Suddenly I heard a familiar female voice yelling, “Hey, whatcha doing fool?” The man hesitated, turned towards the woman who began using her skills to distract him. She motioned to me to run, which I did, looking over my shoulder to see she was keeping him occupied.

There being no cell phones in those days I had to let myself back into the building to phone the police, as I was concerned for her safety. They came quickly but she and the man were already gone. Next morning the police informed me they had found her body and the man, known to them, had been arrested for her murder.

Have you taken note that health care providers, first responders, grocery store and pharmacy clerks are still at their posts, as are the men and women of our armed forces. That at night the lights are still on, we have fuel for cars, to heat homes, truckers are keeping the supply chains working, farmers providing food, countless other men and women are also in truth putting themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 and getting sick, quite possibly dying? 

Are we going to be that selfish, have such disdain for them and all our brothers and sisters to ignore the ‘stay at home’ pleas of health authorities? Can we be really that bent towards ourselves?

In the film version of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, one of the scenes which has always stayed with me is when the character Atticus Finch is leaving the courtroom and as he walks people stand and one of his children asks of an elderly black man, they are in the court balcony: “Why is everyone standing?” “Because your father is passing by.”

When this brute of a pandemic has been taken down and we can resume ordinary life, albeit much changed, even now should we be able to walk for fresh air, keeping charitable distance, where our homeless brothers and sisters are and we see them as we or they walk by, we should pause, stand for a moment: “Because it is the Lord Jesus passing by.”

[1] from paras. 37:

© 2020 Fr. Arthur Joseph

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