Written by: Mark Gamez
There he sat at the corner of St. George station beside the Tim Hortons; it was a cold day, with the freezing wind howling down the OISE building, but there he was, another one. It seems like they are everywhere, and I cannot separate myself from them; it is this forced circumstantial relationship that angers me: “Will they ever get off their lazy bottom, throw their cigarettes to the grown, and get a job?” Day after day, I walk to the University of Toronto bothered by my conscience; however, some relief comes by passing on the blame: “They do this to themselves; why is our government not helping these people; and everyone else is passing by, so I am not going to pay attention to him either.” But on this specific day, I was forced to wait at the light across from him, and there I had to watch him beg for what seemed like an eternity. One by one, they heard him crying out: “Please! Please!” Yet no one gave him anything, not even a look. He sat on that winter cold cement ground with only a dirty wind breaker. Perhaps so many passed him by because he exemplified the unfortunate stereotypical poor person: he was a coloured man, unshaven, smoking a cigarette. Yet, in my experiences with the poor, I knew that this moment was different. I knew that I should not look away this time; so, my eyes were made to see his suffering and my ears were made to hear his pleading. It was a crying out so genuine that his voice stirred in my heart a long forgotten gift: Compassion.
The Church and the Shire
“The joys and the hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted, are the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the followers of Christ as well. Indeed, nothing genuinely human fails to raise an echo in their hearts” (Gaudium et Spes).
At a formal dinner last month between the students of St. Michael’s College and Cardinal Collins of the Archdiocese of Toronto, Cardinal Collins reflected upon these first few lines that begin an important document out of the Second Vatican Council. In his talk, he attempted to encourage the youth into service in and for the world, for he believes that the Church is called to service. He did this by referring to the sufferings of our brothers and sisters around the world, and within our own community; so he mentioned that the Church’s social teachings have much to offer our communities. Yet, in all that he had to say about the social teachings of the Church, what rang the loudest to the students, I believe, were the various references he made to the Hobbits. These fictional creatures in Tolkien’s world lived in the comfort, safety, and beauty of the natural Shire, and to step out of the Shire is to venture into the realm of humans, elves, dwarves, and orcs where good and evil, joy and grief, affliction and power possess and move in the world. The suffering of others in that other realm is seen, heard, and lived by only a few hobbits who accepted the call to serving even those whom they deemed to be different: the other.
In a certain way the Church was seen by some to be like the Shire, to which some Christians focus all their attention moving deeper inwards and placing little value in venturing outside to address the concerns of the world. This is exactly what Vatican II in Gaudium et Spes hoped to change. The Council reminds us to serve this world, but this calling is not only to a few, nor is it only to the clergy, but also it is a calling to the laity; in fact, the calling belongs to the entire Church. This calling is to venture out of our small and safe community, and to join in fellowship with the others in this world to labor and sacrifice towards the common good.
An Echo in their Hearts
After some reflection, what troubles me most about seeing so many poor and suffering people on the streets is how easily we can shut our eyes, quicken our pace to pass them, increase the volume of our expensive iPod or mp3 players, continue or begin conversing with our friends, while at the same time, judging the poor. If we are to live out the calling of Christ who was sent into the world, from the “heavenly Shire”, if we are to mean the words: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” then we must begin to listen to the echo in our hearts. Christ must be our example, for He listened to and allowed His heart to be moved by compassion. Any meaningful service begins with a compassionate heart that sees the other as a neighbor, as a brother and sister, and finally, as one’s self. It is not enough to feel sorry or sad for the other person (though this has value)—no, it is not enough—because this is not Christ-like enough. Compassion is more than feelings; it is the inspiring of the whole person to incarnate upon oneself the joys and hopes, the grief and anguish of the people of our time, especially of those who are poor or afflicted; then and only then can we be a sign of the Son of God’s true humanity at the service of the world on the cross, for even there while He suffered, He served the woman in her need: “Woman, behold thy son,” and likewise to His beloved disciple: “Behold thy mother” (John 19 26-27).
Are we not his disciples also?
This is our generation, our time to challenge our Church community and our entire community to work at the service of our neighbor, to direct our political and social energy at the service of the poor, for God says to the Church regarding the poor, “Woman, behold thy son,” and to the world, lost like the prodigal Son, poor and hungry while feeding the rich and fattened pigs of this world, “Behold thy mother.”
As to why the Cardinal talked so much about the hobbits, perhaps, it can be summed up in Bilbo’s own words to the homeless Dwarves who questioned his reasons for not turning back and deserting them: “I often think of Bag End. That’s where I belong. That’s home. You don’t have one. It was taken from you, but I will help you take it back if I can” (The Hobbit).
All in all, there at the crossing of St. George Street and Bloor, I stood at the sight of my brother crying out, and still that cry echoes in my heart.Catholic Living, Movies, by Catholic Chapter House.