By Msgr. Joseph P. Calise
I live in a great neighborhood. Williamsburg has become an amazing mixture of young and mature, traditional and avant-garde, long-standing and trendy – the old and the new, side by side.
One of the things I like most about living here – and coincidentally one of the reasons I believe it remains such a popular place to live – is its proximity to Manhattan. One stop on the L train, and I can be at 14th Street and First Avenue. On a more adventurous day, it’s just a 2.2-mile walk over the Williamsburg Bridge to Delancey Street and Avenue A. As much as I like living in Brooklyn, there is an excitement inherent in Manhattan.
Unfortunately, visits to Manhattan now include the bleak rise in the number of people who are begging for help. The desire to help everyone and let God sort the sincere from the fraudulent becomes unrealistic merely because of the number of people. Wanting to help everyone and being able to are very different things. With almost everyone’s resources somewhat limited, it is important that we use resources wisely to ensure they do the most good. Let me explain what I mean with two stories that are as true as they are strange.
Grateful for a Dime
One day after Mass, a parishioner came to me and handed me a $20 bill. She found it on the sidewalk en route to Mass and asked me to put it to good use for someone needy. I put it in my pocket and left for Manhattan without giving it too much thought. That afternoon while I was uptown, a man asked me for help. I was distracted waiting for an appointment and answered without thinking that all I had was a dime in change. I was surprised when the man said he would gratefully take it and added, “if nine more people do that I’ll have a dollar and be able to get something to eat.”
His gratitude reminded me of the $20 bill, which quickly became his. We had the chance to talk long enough for me to hear his story of falling from a lucrative job to losing almost everything.
My conversation with another young man did not end quite so pleasantly. Several months ago, I was trying to get to the train station to make my way back to Brooklyn when I saw a young man sitting on the sidewalk. He was reading a book next to a sign that indicated his need for cash. I told him that I was uncomfortable simply handing him cash but would be very happy to buy him something to eat.
I was surprised when he told me that he did not want any food but was trying to raise enough cash to get a new charger for his cell phone. Immediately, my impression of his need changed.
As much as I would like to be able to help everyone I see on the street asking for something, prudence demands that I at least attempt to differentiate between those who are sincere and those whose needs are less immediate. In order to do that, I had to talk with them to learn whether or not there were tangible signs that gave their stories credibility.
Today we celebrate the feast of Christ the King. There are many roles attributed to a king in history as well as in faith. One of them, highlighted in today’s Scriptures, is judgment – the separation of the just servants from the unjust. The psalm is a hymn of faith in the love of the Shepherd for His sheep. He wants the best for them. He cares for them, meets their needs and protects them. He gives them all they need for life and stays close so they could always follow Him. He looks upon their neediness and responds with love. His love for them is without question or limit.
The Shepherd’s Love
Some accept God’s love gratefully and pass it on however they can. Others find themselves lost at times, hoping the Shepherd will hear their cry and find them. Others choose to follow their own path and try to avert the Shepherd’s gaze. Judgment is not about evaluating the Shepherd’s love but the search for tangible signs that the sheep have recognized Him as leader and accepted His love.
The Gospel highlights the need for those signs to be tangible. A man asking for help to get a charger for his phone is not as credible as the man who is grateful for even small change. The man who ignores his neighbor – the sick, imprisoned, lonely and hungry – is not as credible an imitator of Christ as one who practices the corporal and spiritual works of mercy in his daily life.
I had a difficult decision to make, so I looked for signs. I didn’t have to choose between helping one or the other of the two men – I had to make a choice to give to either based on the credibility of the individual facts they presented. One man needed food, and another wanted a luxury. They told me what I needed to know. Because of their words, their intentions – I knew what I had to do. One of them went off to get a meal.
Readings for the Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe
Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 15-17
Psalm 23: 1-2, 2-3, 5-6
1 Corinthians 15: 20-26, 28
Matthew 25: 31-46