Weekly HomilyArchives

Monday, March 12, 2012

“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

Neighbors Helping Neighbors

March 18, 2012
Fourth Sunday of Lent
John 3:14-21 Reading Here 
Fr. Robert deLeon, CSC

Snatched from cyberspace, the following story reports to be an eyewitness account of an incident that occurred long ago in New York City:

“On a frigid Manhattan December day, a little boy, about 10 years-old, was standing barefoot on the sidewalk outside a shoe store, peering through the window, his entire body quaking with cold.

“A woman approached the young boy and exclaimed, 'My! But you're in such deep thought staring in that window!' The boy replied through chattering teeth, 'I was asking God to give me a pair of shoes.'

“The woman took him by the hand, went into the store, and asked the clerk for a half-dozen pair of socks for the boy. She further asked the clerk if he would bring a basin of warm water and a towel. He quickly returned with the latter items.

“She led the little fellow to a seat way in the back of the store and, removing her gloves, knelt down, washed his little feet, and dried them with the towel. By this time, the clerk had returned with the socks. Placing a pair on the boy's feet, she then purchased a pair of shoes for him. Then she tied up the remaining pairs of socks and gave them to him. Patting him on the head, she said, 'No doubt, you’ll be more comfortable now.'

“As she turned to leave the store, the astonished boy caught her by the hand, and looking up into her face, asked with tears in his eyes, 'Are you God's wife?'” (Original source unknown)

“Are you God’s wife?” asked the boy. Reminds me of a conversation Jesus had with a few of his disciples when they asked him a similar question. “‘Who are my mother and my brothers?’ And looking at those who sat around him, Jesus said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’” (Mark 3:33-35)

Indeed, are we, then, our neighbor’s keeper? I guess we are. While boundaries of privacy need be respected, yet the divine command to love the neighbor is absolute and universal. Who is my neighbor? Everyone. No exceptions. Jesus said so, and the gospel passage we hear today confirms it.

St. John writes, “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3:16-17)

We are the fulfillment of that divine promise. God loved the world; and that love is manifest in our great care for one another. God wishes everyone safety from peril: and that wish is fulfilled in our safeguarding every human life from conception to natural death. God sent his son that the world might be saved; we are the embodiment of Jesus, God’s Son, as we give our hearts and hands each day to God’s good use.

That little barefoot boy shivering as he peered into the shoe store window: he’s each of us who has ever brought to God in prayer a desperate need. And the kindly woman who washed his feet and then bought him shoes and socks – God’s wife, as the little boy supposed – she’s each of us whenever we’ve reached out to a neighbor in distress.

But I must tell you a story about another of God’s wives whom I met not long ago in the hospital. While I wasn’t witness to the wife who bought shoes for a shivering little boy, I did sit at the bedside of this other wife who, I learned, would soon return to her heavenly home.

Making routine rounds to visit newly-admitted Catholic patients in the cardiac care unit this January morning, I was at the threshold of a particular cubicle when a tap on the shoulder caught me. Motioning me to move out of earshot of the patient, the patient’s nurse wanted to give me a “heads up” about the woman whose room I was about to enter.

“Just want to let you know,” she said, “that Mrs. Jackson [not her real name] is making a decision about hospice care. There’s just nothing more medically we can offer her. Just want to let you know what’s going on in case she brings up the topic.” Thanking her nurse for this information, I knocked at the doorway of the cubicle, asking if I might drop in for a visit. Wide-eyed and smiling, the elderly woman weakly motioned me in.

“Good morning, Mrs. Jackson. I’m Fr. Bob deLeon, the priest here at the hospital. I saw that you were Catholic, and I just wanted to drop in to see how you’re doing.” And with that, she motioned me to a chair at bedside.

She said it so matter-of-factly – “I’m dying.” Moving my chair closer to her bed and taking her hand in mine, I asked, “What do you mean?” Then, weak as she was, an attempt at laughter turned into a coughing fit before she continued. “There’s nothing more they can do for my heart. It’s time to go.” She must have noticed the change in my expression as she offered consoling words. “And it’s okay. Really, it is. You see, I’ve worn my heart out loving my 9 kids. Gave them all I had. And I can’t imagine a better way to have spent my life and my love. Now it’s time to go.”

Two days later, very early in the morning, she did just that. All 9 children surrounded the bed as we commended her to God’s eternal care, each them tracing the Sign of the Cross on their mom’s forehead.

Through sobs and sniffles, I related the conversation of two days earlier, telling them that their mother was dying a grateful woman, her life and love fully spent on them. Preparing to leave with their mother, my parting words were both comfort and challenge. “She loved you all so much. Now she’s watching over you from heaven, praying you’ll do for others what she did for you.”

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