MARCHing into Action
It’s always an exciting day when you have a field trip scheduled! Before we left to visit the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, however, we spent some time delving into the meaning of the Corporal Works of Mercy.
First we read from the Bible, in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 25:31-46. This is the source of the Corporal Works of Mercy, from the lips of Jesus. Our Lord charges us to
· Feed the hungry · Give drink to the thirsty · Clothe the naked
· Shelter the homeless · Comfort the sick · Visit the imprisoned · Bury the dead
Back in February, we studied the pillars of Lent, namely Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. Our families agreed to collect alms for the poor, in the form of items for our local homeless shelter. Did you know that the word alms comes from the Greek word elenmosyne, which means “mercy”?
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that mercy is the spontaneous product of charity (love). Of course, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to love. Why? ‘Truly I tell you,” our Lord declares, “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (NIV Mt 25:40)
The children listed the corporal works of mercy; then we brainstormed about how to carry them out. How? Food drives. Free Lemonade Stands. Collect coats and mittens. Give furniture to people who have lost part of their homes to fire. Talk to nursing home residents. Write letters to prisoners. Have Masses said for the intention of a loved one and the souls of the faithful departed. These were some of the children’s ideas.
And then…on to the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter! We were looking forward to dropping off our collected items and receiving a tour. Previously carrying out its mission in a 14-bed, century-old building, the shelter is a newly-constructed (Oct 2012) building, giving temporary housing to 50 or more persons. We saw that, while the Shelter makes every effort to accommodate its guests, there are important rules and expectations that keep everything running smoothly. It’s a lot like living in a home! One disturbing fact: out of all the guests that stay at the Shelter, about 40 percent are families with children.
Our visit made an impression on our own children. Here are some of their comments:
“I like that they try to squeeze in as many people as possible.” –William, 12
“I felt good walking into the shelter, ‘cause I knew the things I was carrying would be put to good use.” –Catherine, 9
“It’s a nice place, and I like that they can help whole families.” –Michael, 13
“I got to thinking that the kids who stay there are just like me.” –Madeline, 13
“It’s good that they had special bags for people who just had to stay the night. –Katie, 10
“It’s an important experience for us to see the poverty in our own community and realize that these homeless people are just like us. Visiting the Shelter made me see how much my family is blessed with, and how great a need there is to serve our fellow man—in our community, nation and the whole world.” –Jacki, 15
“They had a BIG fridge!” –Christine, 6
Most of us have dropped off bags of outgrown jeans to Goodwill or given cans of corn for a food drive and perhaps even furniture to the Salvation Army. We assume they will be of use to somebody. A nameless, faceless somebody. A whole new level of connecting happens after a trip to a homeless shelter. And with the connection comes caring. And with caring, true charity of heart.
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