Humanity and Poverty in Christmas!

Adoration by the shepherds - MainoWe have just begun the season of Advent which recalls to our memory the coming of Jesus Christ our Savior on Christmas Day. This is a time of hope and expectation for the coming of Christ. We follow the spectacular consequence of our consumerist tradition in shopping and in an external preparation. The mystery of the Incarnation has been reduced to decorations and we have lost sight of the true nature.
It is not only important to know that God became man but it is also quite interesting to learn what type of man he became. I have read in the latest arrival “In Love With Christ”, the secret of St. Francis of Assisi by Father Raniero Cantalamessa O.F.M.CAP, who is integrating the ontological vision of incarnation by describing from John’s Gospel “the word, being God, became man/flesh” and from Paul “Christ, though He was rich, became poor”. Today the humanity and poverty of Christ should be taken seriously in order to understand Christmas. Christmas and the poor cannot be separated. Jesus Christ came for the humble, the little ones, the suffering but this reality never reaches our hearts today.
Jesus came to this world to bring peace and fullness of life.  But today catastrophic wars; bottomless cruelty due to extremism and particularly terrorist violence in the name of religion which take away innocent children; people in the war zone; and also false propaganda against life is a great threat for humanity!  As religious and people of God, we are called to remain full of hope and to make a grateful remembrance of the recent past and thus open our doors to others. The Year of Consecrated Life speaks of “being in love, of true friendship, of profound communion”. Henceforth, let us take seriously our complexities of Christian living by “being alert and stay awake” to encounter the living Savior of flesh and blood.

Fr. Soosai Rathinam

Luxurious Poverty…U-Turn!!!

Fr. Soosai Rathinam, SdC

“No one can live without delight and that is why man, deprived of spiritual joy, goes over to fleshly pleasures” (Thomas Aquinas). Our reliance on other persons and attachment to worldly possessions in this hedonistic culture is quite normal. For some, a car is a wife for others, computers, cell phones, friends and financial security and so on and so on. I have trusted him/her like a mountain but he/she has abandoned, betrayed me… these are the desperations and  cries of today’s lives. In this context, possessions lead to attachment which leads to greediness and a grabbing mentality.

Instead of relying on material security, we should rely on God and in His Providence and thus we become voluntarily poor like St. Francis of Assisi who said “My God and my all” which was his prayer. In the life of Jesus, He identified Himself with the poor and His lifestyle had no security, comfort, permanent house, and He was even buried in a borrowed grave. The followers of Jesus also left everything- nets, boats, hired servants, tax office, etc.

“Give what you have to the poor” and “poverty depends on Charity “says our father of the poor St. Guanella. His eyes were able to see Jesus in the poor, “the most abandoned of all, bring him in, sit him at your table and make him yours, because he is Jesus”. Fr. Guanella warned the religious “let the two sins against providence be avoided “spending uselessly and refusing ourselves what is necessary for food, clothing and health. Our founder underwent umpteen sufferings, miscomprehensions, the FOUR F’S (fame-hungry, freddo-cold, fumo-smoke, fastidi-adversity) He always encourages us to love poverty, love the cross, and embrace penances and thus we can ascend the ladder of perfection.

Our Holy Father’s Lenten message is an eye opener to make an examination of conscience on a life of evangelical poverty in three types (of destitution): material, moral and spiritual and show our ‘Diaconia’ in meeting the needs of the poorest and alleviate the poverty with compassion, tenderness and solidarity of His love. Lent is a fitting time for self-denial in order to enrich others by our own poverty and solidarity. The recent Catholic Bishops’ Conference of India also urged us to become an example of simplicity, transparency, justice and mercy in a society polluted by corruption and violence.

St. Joseph loved poverty and suffered the privation of life with patience and without murmur or complaint! He is a model of patience and was full of the virtue of humility and, with a righteous attitude, obeyed the plan of God. May he bless each one of us to be generous through our personal and community poverty!

Meeting Christ at Tala Hospital

Manila – Ever since the second day after my arrival in the Philippines seven months ago, when Fr. Charlton informed me of several possibilities for a week of immersion with different groups of poor, I had been eagerly awaiting the experience that we (Br. Joseph and myself) just participated in from January 27th to February 1st, 2013: an encounter with and the opportunity to minister to those who suffer from the effects Hansen‘s disease (the name now used for the disease commonly known as leprosy) at Tala Hospital, Caloocan City. What I did not realize until later is that this experience would turn into a double blessing because besides our time ministering to the Hansenites from 8 am- 5pm each day, we also lived with an impoverished family from Tala during the other hours of the day.
These experiences touched me profoundly on many levels—in fact, I am still struggling to put into words and am unable to adequately share what happened during that grace-filled week. But suffice it to say that I was keenly aware of the presence of the Lord in and among the Hansenites, and through kindness shown us and the extreme sacrifice made on our behalf by our host families. When we arrived in Tala on Sunday afternoon we met our host families, and right from the first minute they welcomed us and made us part of their family. My host family was a bit larger than most families in the USA. In fact there were 15 members staying in a house approximately 15‘ x 20‘. Although the house was small, the love was great. Throughout the week, the little children played and prayed with me, the older ones and the parents told me their stories, and they all sacrificed so much in order to share their meals with me. I was filled with admiration at the hard work done by the mother and father—most days they were taking care of the needs of their family from 4:00am-11:30pm. The little bit of work I offered was really quite meager in comparison. Likewise I was filled with respect for those persons with Hansen‘s disease who are permanent residents of Tala Hospital. During my experience among the Hansenites, I was reflecting upon the Gospel passage from Saint Mark that says, “A leper came to Jesus and kneeling down begged him and said, If you wish, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand, touched him, and said to him, “I do will it. Be made clean.” Although Jesus willed to heal that particular person with Hansen‘s disease, I often wondered why He did not will to heal them all. While I still don‘t know the answer, after meeting and getting to know the men and women at Tala Hospital I think I have a little better understanding why. First, so that Christ could manifest Himself to His followers through them; thus giving us an opportunity to give ourselves to the most abandoned and suffering persons. Second, that we may become Instruments of God‘s Providence—awakening the virtue of Hope in them and revealing the love of the Father to them. It is certainly true that Hansen‘s disease can be a debilitating and devastating disease; and that there is still a stigma attached to (and a great misunderstanding of) the disease by many people—even by the family members of those who suffer from the disease—that is why many of the residential patients at Tala Hospital have been completely abandoned by their families. One of the most common myths is that Hansen‘s disease can be caught just by touching a person infected with it. While at one time the disease was easily spread from person to person, now the disease is easily treated, and the only way to get it is through continued and prolonged exposure to untreated patients, or by inhaling the airborne bacteria from an untreated patient. In fact, many of the healthcare professionals at Tala have been there for more than twenty years, and have been in constant contact with the Hansenites, and have not caught the disease.
In closing I would like to offer as a reflection the following quote from St. Francis of Assisi and then to encourage you to take time to visit and meet Christ in Tala: “This is how the Lord gave me, brother Francis, the power to do penance. When I was in sin the sight of lepers was too bitter for me. And the Lord Himself led me among them, and I pitied and helped them. And when I left them I discovered that what had seemed bitter to me was changed into sweetness in my soul and body. And shortly afterward I rose and left the world.” (Bro. Bob Neimeyer)

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