Sunday, November 22, 2020


if you want to listen

"Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your need? He will answer them, 'What you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'"
Matthew 25:31-46

I imagine some of you may have rolled your eyes when you heard this gospel and saw me walking toward the pulpit. Maybe you were one to think to yourself, "Oh no! Here we go! We are in for yet another "do gooder" guilt trip for not doing more to help the poor!"  

In anticipation of that possibility, I looked up the definition of the phrase "do gooder." It said that a "do gooder" was a well-intentioned, but naive, idealist who supports philanthropic or humanitarian causes or reforms." I focused on two parts of the definition - (a) the "well-intentioned, but naive, idealist" part and the (b) supporter of philanthropic or humanitarian causes or reforms" part. I am guilty of the second part. I am a long time "supporter of philanthropic or humanitarian causes." However, I reject the label "naive idealist."

I have spent my life being what some would call a "do gooder,"  reaching out to the poor, the marginal, the left-out and the walked on. I earned my "doctorate" in "do gooderism" while I was serving in the home missions of our diocese, while I was pastor here in this parish back in the days when we "took anybody" and earned the nickname "the island of misfit toys" and now as a volunteer in the Caribbean missions. Even though some might call me "naive" for doing so. I know that I am in good company. I still remember the shock I felt when I read what someone wrote about Saint Francis. They called him a "commie do-gooder!" 

Excuses for not being a "do-gooder" are abundant. Some people opt-out of being a "do gooder" when they discover that some of the poor become master at "working the system" rather than working so they don't need the system. Other people op-out of being a "do gooder" when they find out that some of the poor are their own worst enemies and cause some of their own problems. As my grandfather used to say about them, "There is poverty and there are people with poor ways!" Still others opt-out of being a "do gooder" when they find out that the old adage "teaching them how to fish" is a lot more complicated than just "giving them a fish." Most who opt-out of being "do gooders" opt-out because really helping the poor is often complicated, time consuming and patience draining. It's a lot easier to hand beggars a dollar to get rid of them than it is to really help them by dealing with the issues that caused them to end up where they are! 

Helping the poor, without making them dependent and even worse off, requires that you not be naive, requires that you not do it merely to relieve your own guilt and requires that you not do it so that you end up feeling superior.  Helping the poor is hard work. From my years of working with the poor in the home missions, working with the street people of downtown Louisville and working with the poor of the Caribbean missions, I have learned that helping the poor, without making them dependent and leaving them worse of, is not easy. Sometimes it is maddening. It requires a lot more than good intentions. In fact, it is one of the hardest things in the world to do. Ask those volunteers who work downstairs every day to feed the street people who come here for a meal every day. The needs are endless, the work is demanding and it has been going on here since the mid 1800s. 

I offer my volunteer work in the Caribbean missions as stark example of not being naive.   When I was about to retire, I knew that I could not spend the rest of my days playing golf, pampering myself and talking about my "good old days." Instead, I started an organization for retired priests like myself and lay professionals who wanted to share their time, talents and resources in the Catholic missions of the Caribbean, I call my organization the Catholic Second Wind Guild. It's primarily for retired people looking for "a second wind." For the last five years, I have worked like a dog, and tried to involve others, to (1) assist in the pastoral work primarily in the Caribbean Dioceses of Kingstown and Bridgetown (2) to uplift the image of Catholics who are minorities especially in the countries of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines and Barbados and (3) support Bishop County and Archbishop Gordon personally. So far, I have completed 12 trips down there! I only cancelled trip #13 because of the pandemic! 

My organization has been able to accomplish a lot over the last five years, but we are not "naive." We have tried to build in a "sweat equity" policy that requires they do their part to help themselves. We helped save tons of surplus medical supplies from our area hospitals, headed for the local landfills, to send to poor island hospitals and clinics in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The government, in turn, allows us to send down items in the containers for the Catholic schools and parishes duty-free. My organization paid to ship the first two of the thirty-foot containers, but I insisted that the local island government had to pay for the third one (which they did last month). 

When one priest asked for help to buy a boat motor to help him get to his other island parish for Mass, he told me that he had been hitch-hiking on commercial vessels but was missing as many Masses as he was able to make on the other island. He told me that he had a fisherman parishioner with a boat, but no motor. I agreed that my organization would buy a new motor on one condition, that the fisherman could use the motor to make a living fishing, but he had to take the priest to church when he needed to go and put a little of his profit into a fund to replace the motor in the future. 

When another parish wanted to build a $6,000 fence around the church property to keep the roaming goats out of the church and from eating the priest's vegetable garden, I said they had to raise the first $1,000 and we would pay the rest. It took them a whole year to raise their $1,000.00.  Once secured, we released the rest of the funds. The fence is now completed.

Just recently, two of the outer islands wanted to put ceiling fans in their churches because it is a very hot country, near the equator. Our organization bought the fans and shipped them down, but I insisted that they had to raise the money to have the wiring and installation done, which they did. 

We sent seven youth to World Youth Day in Poland a few years ago. We have been sending down school supplies, toys and medicine for the orphans. We renovated the Diocesan Pastoral Centre. Recently we started a scholarship fund to help poor parents pay part of the $300 a year tuition to the Catholic schools. They had to pay the rest. We even started a savings account for 24 orphans so that when they get to the age when they have to leave the orphanage, they would have at least something to start their adult life. 

We have completed several other programs, but we are not "naive." We try to have an educational element and a sweat equity element in every one of our programs so that we can help them help themselves. We account for every penny we collect. We require that thank you notes, recognition letters and photographs be sent for our donors to see. Believe me, that is a lot harder and more complicated than sending them a check!   

So why do I care and why should you care? Why care about the poor, the hungry, the underemployed, the orphans, the uneducated and others in need? I tell you why I do it! I do it first of all because I have been there! I know what it is like to grow up poor as a child. I know what it's like to be a prisoner of psychological abuse. I know what it's like to be embarrassed when you don't have things that other kids have at your age. I know what it's like to work three jobs during the summer to pay rent, eat at White Castle three times a day and try to save enough to go back to the seminary for nine months. I know what it's like to be teased because you are "from the country," that you don't have stylish cloths, that you have never been anywhere on a vacation and that you have to depend on others for help, even for small items like school supplies. I survived because there were some good people out there willing to help me along the way! That's why I have a soft spot for the poor.

I'll tell you another reason we should care about the poor, the hungry and thirsty, the imprisoned, the suffering and the left out! It's because Jesus has made it a fundamental mandate for anyone claiming to be one of his followers. It is so important, in fact, that he tells us that how we treat the least among us is how we treat him! It is so important, in fact, that it has become the measuring stick that will be used to measure us when we stand before God on judgment day! We might try to excuse ourselves by saying to God, "When did we see you in that condition and not come to your aid?" Then we will have to stand there embarrassed when we are told, "as long as you failed to do it for these poor people, you failed to do it for me!"  Then God will say to us, "OK, then, if you didn't know them, then I don't know you either!"