I hope that you will indulge me in this presentation. This paper is a simple urging for all who are listening to take note of the scriptures, look into your hearts and help those who need it most. We are called by God to unselfishly restore Dignity and bring Hope to those who have lost the self-worth in their live s that once gave them comfort and joy.
As we near the end of our five year journey, I feel it is incumbent on me to give my views on morality. This presentation is not deeply theological, because I realize the more I study the less I know. This presentation is merely a collection of my thoughts .
I am confident that this endeavour will show, that even though being keepers of our brothers and sisters is at times very difficult, the ultimate reward s will be worth it. To those who were not here last year , my presentation was on St. Matthew and the Heavenly Banquet. In that Gospel, we are reminded that the neglected and abused, that we are called upon to help, will inherit the Kingdom
So now Jesus directs us to go and bring these people, and all people who will follow and live a Christian life to the Banquet.
A Reading From:
Isaiah 58:6-9 b
Is not this the Fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the
to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
When you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be
your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am.
A Reading from:
Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care
for orphans, and widows in their distress,
and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters if you say you have Faith but do not have works? Can Faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs ,what is the good of that?
A Reading from:
Then the King will say to those at his right
hand, "Come you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the
foundation of the world; for I was hungry and
you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you
welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me."
The Word of the Lord.
Jesus tells us clearly, "you gave". " You gave", well what does that mean? It means that we do things for others with their welfare first, as well as their needs coming before ours. If everyone in the world thought this way and then acted upon it, imagine what a wonderful world this would be. Heaven on earth.
"For I was hungry and you gave me food,"
Have we done enough to make sure that those less fortunate have enough sustenance to keep them going day in and day out? Nothing is sadder when children suffer terribly because the provider simply can't provide. We read in the newspapers and hear about children going to school without breakfast. Jesus is telling us ," Feed the hungry!"
"I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink"
Literally, it means a drink, most likely of water and it came from a time and a place where being without water meant certain death. In such a hot and hostile environment providing drink was a great service .
In these modern times we tend to look at the great thirst people have for knowledge. In the 1990's, Post secondary education is expensive and is almost out of reach for the children of average income families. Loans can shoot to $30,000 to $40,000 and that's for an undergraduate degree.
The quality of education at the elementary and secondary level is being harmed by financial cuts to the system. Teachers are overworked and parents are frustrated. We live in a society that thinks more about budgets than children and quality education for everyone.
Knowledge is staggering in the dessert. Have we done enough to at least quench that thirst? Or will all those young minds simply die away? Jesu s is telling us, "Give them something to drink! "
"I was a stranger and you welcomed me. "
Today, there are people who possess a siege mentality. They want to batten down their hatches from the storms that swirl around them in their personal lives. This is when Christians must fight that tendency to look inward and try to reach out to others. It's difficult. When the world is cynical we can so easily become cynical ourselves.
However; our Church has a two thousand year tradition of welcoming people in. So whether it's an embrace, a smile, a nod or gesture of unity, its meaning is personal and can touch the heart of some one very deeply. Remember, we were also strangers to each other at one time. Jesus tells us," Welcome them in!"
"I was naked and you gave me clothing ."
There is nothing worse then to see people under clothed, in the dead of winter without boots, gloves and hats. Lack of clothing tears people down, sets them apart and gives them little opportunity for a better life because of their appearance.
In baptism, the new Christian is given a garment of white, symbolizing both a welcoming in and a new life. By clothing the naked; we do our part in hopefully bringing about a change of attitude from those who are receiving 'Restored Dignity' and by those who may have done nothing until they saw Christian Charity. Have we done enough here? Jesus tells us to "Clothe them!"
"I was sick and you took care of me."
I' d like to digress from my topic, though there's no doubt that what I'm about to say has a lot to do with what we've talked about over the last few weeks. These weeks have been very painful for me because it brings back recent memories .
It was the summer of 1987 when my brother Paul came home from California. My brother was a good-looking sociable kind of guy. When he walked into the room you knew he had arrived. We grew close after he came home a year earlier when his wife threw him out. They had tragically lost an infant son and their marriage fell apart.
Paul came home with devastating news. He had Aids. This broke my father 's heart. Our father was dying of cancer and he knew that he would not be there for our mother when Paul died. Dad died on December 13, 1988 at the age of 51. Even on his death-bed he worried about Paul, my mother, and the rest of us. Paul went back to California and for most of the next seven years he lived in Los Angeles.
My brother taught us a few things about Aids. We became witness to his personal experiences with the disease. He experienced prejudice. He and his partner were evicted from apartments because of his sexual orientation and his disease. He experienced fear. Life is fragile when you have little or no immune system and any ailment could lead to possible death. He was near death twice.
He experienced loneliness. He was away from his family when he needed us to comfort him in his fears. He had friends in California, but many of them were dying or leaving under the strain of caring for people with Aids. He experienced sorrow. Many of those around him died, especially two companions with whom he shared a life.
In the summer of 1994, after moving to upstate New York, Paul became sicker. The decision was made to go get my brother and take him home. I remember in the car as we approached Cape Breton, just before the Causeway when you can see the Island from a hill, Paul said, "I'm coming home to die." At that moment and for the next five months, I shared in another experience that I know he felt - 'helplessness'.
Paul was thin and his head was shaven because of scabs that covered his entire body. He had numerous physical problems, including colitis, tumors and early stages of dementia, to name a few. But he hung in there, gained weight and grew his hair back.
I will admit that I had irrational fears about the disease. I would not drink from the same glass, even washed. I was nervous to eat from the same bowl of chips and I was fearful to bring my children to the house.
For about two months I was reluctant to even visit my mother's house. I did a lot of soul searching and prayed to God for guidance. I realized that I was coming to terms with my brother's illness and that I must face his agonizing death. God brought me back home. I visited regularly and Paul was terrific.
I believe Paul wanted one more Christmas at home. However, Christmas week he took a turn for the worse. He stayed in bed, spoke little and lost bowel movement. Nothing is more humbling until you see your mother applying a diaper to your adult brother.
On January 2nd, I dropped in to see how he was. He was less responsive. My mother feared he was going into a coma. So that day we took him to the city hospital. I stayed with him that evening. He received a new watch from our grandmother. It was loose on his thinning wrist and I fumbled to tighten it.
We looked into each other's eyes and I could see and feel his fear. I tried to be calm, but I'm sure he could see I was afraid too. We talked a little that night and the next day he slipped into a coma. My sister was with Paul when he took his last breath on January 5th,1995 at the age of33.
As a family, we wanted Paul to be surrounded with love; with dignity, Many of Paul's friends in California were left to die alone without any family. But it was Paul's gift to us for him to be present in his last days. He chose to come home to his family.
Friends surrounded our family, including all of you for me, something I'll never forget. The Church was especially there. Father Dan Maclssaac at Holy Redeemer came to visit Paul and was there for us when we needed him. According to the Cape Breton Aids Coalition, it was the first time at Paul's Funeral Mass that the topic of Aids was openly talked about in a eulogy. Something no other Faith Community in this area had even spoken about. As for Paul, his ash-filled urn rests on my father's chest in Resurrection Cemetery and his Spirit has gone home to the Father.
It may take more Paul Warner's within our families to open up our eyes to our ignorance's. Our role is not to judge, but to show compassion and above all care for the sick. In our community, have we done enough to respond to the needs of our neighbours, when they are sick ? Have we shared in their grief and given them comfort when they needed it? Jesus tells us, "Take care of them".
"I was in Prison and you visited me."
We have already become familiar with the prisons of abuse, loneliness and neglect. In almost every community there are people who are homeless, some running from physical and emotional mistreatment. There are many with drug problems who prostitute themselves to survive. Have we done enough to help those who have reached this seeming point of no return . Jesus tells us to, "Visit them".
On The Right Track
Everybody wants to see good things happening in our world, community and parish. I believe that there are good things occurring every day. The problem is that these glorious works of kindness are rarely reported. Yes, during the holidays one will see media reports of food banks and homeless shelters, but as Christians we know that care for the poor, the hungry, the sick and the marginalized is a year-round responsibility.
There are also Catholic organizations, such as the Social Justice Committee of the Canadian Council of Bishops, who tackle issues like political and economic pressures on people at home and abroad. The point is that we can come to the conclusion that the Holy Spirit is alive and well in the world through people who want to make a difference and bring an inkling of Hope into the lives of those who have surrendered to their own despair.
I have had the opportunity of spending the last two years with our graduating class and I must say that I have been privileged to be in their presence. You are Spirit-filled and I have every confidence that you will enrich your family, friends and Faith Community with your Knowledge and Love.
To my Year; How fortunate that God brought us together, when I look at you all, it is then I know what brothers and sisters in Christ really means. And you, Father Jim Oliver, have blessed us with your gifts. You have taught us to look deeply into our conscience and know that we can use our God given gifts of Mercy and Compassion toward those who are considered expendable in a sinful world. It is they, and God willing us, who will share in that Heavenly Banquet. Saint James makes it clear, "and one of you say to them 'go in peace; keep warm, eat your fill,' and yet you do nothing to supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?"
Remember that "You Gave" means putting the welfare of our neighbours first. By the use of our gifts with the imprint of Catholic Moral Values, we as followers of Christ can bring dignity to everyone. That Dignity, which is so easily stripped from us, by unemployment, physical and mental abuse, loneliness and illness, can be restored by each and every one of us.
Let us be that positive catalyst that puts thought into action. Let us not forget that our good works, along with our great Love and Faith in God, will reap the ultimate reward-Eternal Life. And in our endeavour we find that we are not alone, as it is written in Isaiah, "The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard."
Let us Pray:
Heavenly God, Let us remember that You gave us life and that without You, nothing exists.
Let us also recall Your command to Love our neighbours and that everyone is our neighbour.
We understand that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters , we do to You;
and we with all our heart and soul will bring Hope to those who have been stripped of their Dignity.
Look on our class with Your Love and Bless them as they move forward in life. May Your Spirit give them many talents and skills; Help them for Your Glory and for the good of all people.
Loving God, we ask this Grace through Christ our Lord.
A Presentation made to the Adult Religious Education Program of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Antigonish. Published on March 4th, 1996.
© The Rev. Dr. Charles Warner 2021