The other day I was speaking with a couple of people who work in one of our soup kitchens in Edmonton. It is a place that provides not only food but also clothing, and among the people who come for help are the homeless of the city.
Recently a man came to them who had been provided with housing under the city's plan to end homelessness. On this day he had a new sense of hope because he had a place to call is own, and he asked for something he had not sought before: hangers! Up until that time he had for clothing only what was on his back and a change carried in his backpack. He wouldn't ask for more because he had no place to keep it. Now he did, and so he asked for hangers. When he received them, I am told his face lit up. They represented for him a new beginning and thus new hope.
This real-life episode is a stark reminder of the sad fact of real poverty in our midst, a situation that cries out for our response. It comes to mind as I listen to the teaching of the Gospel for Sunday, the feast of Christ the King. It speaks of the Last Judgment, and makes clear the basis on which the Lord Jesus, our King and Judge, will pronounce upon our eternal state: "I was hungry and you gave me food..."
The love of our God, revealed in Jesus and announced in the Gospels, calls us to service not only of the poor but also of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the prisoner, and to recognize that, in serving these, the "least", we serve him.
These situations of need are real and multiple. We know that many in our midst are hungry; our food banks are busy. At the same time we are conscious of a widespread hunger in our society for meaning and truth. The thirsting are not only those seeking a drink of water but also the too many people who thirst for healing in their families. With the rise in immigration to our province, there are many new people, strangers in our land, who seek a welcome. Yet even in our homes loved ones become estranged from one another through anger and bitterness and an inability to listen. The naked are not only those who, like our friend looking for hangers, have just what they wear on their back, but also any who have been stripped of their dignity by unemployment or abuse. We know that there are many sick in our hospitals we can visit; we need also to be conscious of people suffering the less visible but perhaps more debilitating diseases of loneliness and despair. When I go into prisons to visit the inmates I see many locked behind bars longing for freedom. Yet outside of those institutions I often encounter people incarcerated by addictions and hatred, yearning to be set free from those shackles.
The rule of Jesus, our King, is that of a good shepherd, who seeks out any in need to bring them the healing of God's love. Indeed, that love is so great that he identifies himself with the needy: "As often as you did this to one of the least of these, you did it to me." He calls those who would follow him likewise to be in search of the hurting and to be merciful toward them, and thus be of real service to our Master.
In response to this call, Catholic Social Services came to birth in our Archdiocese more than fifty years ago. In many ways it serves Christ in his poor and needy, offering many "hangers" upon which those in need can reliably depend. Its annual fund-raising campaign, called Sign of Hope, raises needed funds to make many of their services possible. If you have not already done so, I heartily encourage you to make a donation. You can find out more at www.signofhope.ab.ca.