Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Who is my neighbor?

We are living in a world wherein the gap between the rich and the poor is widening. Very often, alongside luxury and opulence, there are those who live dangerously close to poverty and destitution. Alongside those who wake up wondering which restaurant they’ll go to for dinner later in the day, there are those who wake up wondering how they will feed their children.

Nowhere is this more true than in California’s Orange County. While we may think of it as the land of the rich and the famous, there are many laborers who are struggling to provide for their families’ most basic needs. In the city of Anaheim where monthly rents far exceed the income of many workers, families are often forced to live in motels to avoid homelessness. It is estimated that as many as one thousand families in Anaheim find themselves in this situation. Because these motel rooms do not often have kitchens and because families often do not have money left over for food, many children go hungry at night.

Bruno Serrato wanted to make a difference. He was the son of Italian immigrants who struggled to make his way in America. Starting off as a dishwasher, he eventually started a very successful restaurant in Anaheim. To give back to his community, he donated time and money to the local Boys and Girls Club which served the so-called “motel kids”.

When his mother had come to visit him from Italy, he took her to the Boys and Girls Club where he had been volunteering. She talked to a boy who was eating a bag of potato chips and was shocked to learn that that would be his supper for the evening. She turned to her son and said, “Bruno, you have to do something!” He replied, “I am doing something, Mama. I’m giving money to this Boys and Girls Club and volunteering my time.” She said, “No, you have to feed these children.”

Inspired by the concern of his mother, Bruno started “Catarina’s club” in 2005 to provide hot meals for the motel kids of Anaheim. Every evening he personally prepared as many as seventy meals. However, with the economic downturn, he struggled to keep up. His restaurant business was down, he was receiving fewer donations to the Club and the number of children who needed meals was growing. He could have given up on Catarina’s club but he came to love the people he was feeding. So he decided to refinance his house to keep this good work afloat.

Today, he is feeding as many as two hundred children a night in two different locations. The cable news network, CNN, named him one of their heroes for 2011. Bruno does not see himself that way. Rather, he sees himself simply as someone who sees starving children and tries to feed them. If every restaurant followed his example, there would be no more children going to bed hungry every night.

When we use the word “Good Samaritan”, people like Bruno Serrato come to mind. They are those who refuse to look the other way when faced with human suffering. They open their homes and their wallets to those who are suffering, sometimes at a high personal cost. In doing so, they make a difference in the world and inspire others to do the same.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to be such people. We are to recognize Jesus not only in His word, not only in the Eucharist but in every person we meet. We are to love each person as we love ourselves. Everyone is our neighbor.

In the parable we are reflecting on today, the Good Samaritan leaves the beaten man in the care of the innkeeper giving him two silver coins. In the same way, our Heavenly Father has left the poor and suffering peoples of the world in our care. As the Good Samaritan left the innkeeper enough to take care of the beaten man, so God has given us enough resources to take care of our neighbors. We have plenty of food, water, clothing and shelter for everyone on the planet. The only reason there is still poverty today is that many of us fail to share what we have with others. It is really that simple. If all of us were to give even just our excess money, food or clothing to those in need, there would be no more poverty.

Our most precious commodity in today’s world, however, is not material possessions but our time. The number one reason we do not help others is because we are too busy. Like the priest and the Levite in the gospel, we are in such a rush and so focused on what we need to get done that we do not even notice the suffering of our brothers and sisters around us. Perhaps it is the case that we keep ourselves so busy because we do not want to see all that suffering. All the activity in our lives is a convenient excuse to ignore the hands reached out to us asking for help.

God is calling us to slow down, to stop and to stoop down to help others. We can be afraid to help because the need is so great and our resources so few. We can feel as though we will get swallowed up. But when we heed God’s call to care for our neighbor, we also become filled with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. God created us to give of ourselves for others so when we, like Bruno Serrato or like the Good Samaritan, treat our neighbor with love and mercy we are fulfilling the deepest desire of our hearts. We sense the loneliness, depression and anxiety that marks our busy world start to fade away. We feel whole again because we are reconnecting with others.

This is the challenge that God offers us today - to live like human beings, to stop living like robots who rush from one assignment to another without noticing our brothers and sisters in need. This is the power of the gospel to change the world one heart at a time. It has to begin with you and I deciding to look open the homeless person with compassion, to see the needy as our brothers and sisters and to not deny anyone who needs our help.

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