To shelter the homeless

| Father Michael Van Sloun | March 29, 2016 | 0 Comments

The corporal works of mercy are charitable deeds that provide for the bodily needs of others, and standing at the top of the list of critical bodily needs are food and shelter. The fourth corporal work of mercy is to shelter the homeless, also known as to harbor the harborless. In the Gospel, it corresponds to, “I was . . . a stranger and you welcomed me” (Mt 25:35). A roof over one’s head provides protection from the elements as well as safety and security.

Shelter comes in a wide variety of forms depending upon the time in history and the geographic location: caves, tents, thatched roof huts, igloos, teepees, log cabins, house boats, apartments, barracks, dormitories, shacks with tin roofs and palaces.

It is a terrible problem to be without adequate housing, and one of the most striking examples is the Holy Family. Mary and Joseph could not find shelter when they went to Bethlehem: “There was no room for them in the inn” (Lk 2:7). Accorded no mercy, their substandard shelter was a stable or a cave. When they fled to Egypt (Mt 2:13-15), again they were without shelter, and it is presumed that through the tender mercy of Jews of the Diaspora, they were given a place to stay. They eventually settled in Nazareth and enjoyed a permanent home.

After Jesus left Nazareth, he needed shelter. Jesus alluded to his personal challenge with adequate housing when he remarked, “The Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head” (Mt 8:20; Lk 9:58). As an itinerant preacher, Jesus had no home of his own. Many believe that when he was in Capernaum, he found shelter as a long-term guest in the home of Simon and Andrew (Mk 1:29), and while he was in Jerusalem he found shelter as a guest in the home of his dear friends Martha, Mary and Lazarus in Bethany (Lk 10:38; Jn 11:5). His hosts were angels of mercy.

During my time in Chicago in the major seminary, I had a friend in a religious order who volunteered as a driver of a Red Cross relief truck. He invited me on a ride-along. Whenever the Chicago Fire Department responds to a house or apartment fire, the Red Cross rushes to the scene, and if a family has lost its place to stay, the Red Cross provides shelter. It was heartwarming to witness mercy in action.

There are so many who lack adequate housing: victims of disasters, the poor, the unemployed, the foreclosed, the disabled, military veterans, abuse victims, the mentally challenged and, today, thousands of refugees, particularly from Syria.

There are many charitable groups that serve the homeless: Habitat for Humanity, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services and Mary’s Place, just to name a few. It is a corporal work of mercy to volunteer or offer donations to these organizations.

Mercy begins at home. It is as simple as parents providing shelter to their own children. Another way is to welcome an aging parent or a sick relative into one’s home.

Many saints, such as St. Vincent de Paul and Blessed Teresa of Kolkata, are inspiring examples of providing care for those without shelter.

St. Joseph is the patron of the homeless. If we hope to travel the road to sainthood and if we hope to please Jesus so as to “inherit the kingdom prepared . . . from the foundation of the world” (Mt 25:34), he asks us to shelter the homeless.

Father Van Sloun is pastor of St. Bartholomew in Wayzata.

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Category: Year of Mercy