Remembering the challenges of the Gospel

A few weeks ago a prolific and creative writer for The Anchor wrote that it was half-time. The summer weeks had reached the mid-point.

If that was true some weeks ago, I think we could say summer is over now. Perhaps not according to the calendar, but with the commencement of school it is the unofficial end of summer. While some nice days remain to enjoy good weather — many we hope — the focus is now on school. Some will say that September is the best time to travel and enjoy vacation without the “summer crowds.” The retired are those who can utilize these days more than others.

The beginning of school revitalizes the parish pastoral year as Religious Education begins and regular parish activities, which may have been suspended for the summer, start up anew. The attention moves from purchasing back-to-school necessities to Halloween. I have already seen Halloween candy, decorations etc. on sale. We really do rush the year.

In past years, Labor Day was the beginning of two weeks of priests’ retreats at Cathedral Camp. We were assigned a week to attend and a room at Cathedral Camp. Some priests will remember those days. There were days of prayer but fun and camaraderie as well. 

Personally I do not look forward to the end of summer. I like the warmer and longer days. Snow and cold are not my favorite weather conditions. But the warm days cannot come without the celebration of the other seasons.

With the change of season also comes the difference in our clothing. Sweaters, coats, gloves and hats replace the more casual summer outfits. The shorts and bathing suits are put away along with the T-shirts and sandals.

In the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 25, we read about the “Judgment of the nations.” You will recall the passage that tells us how the sheep will be separated — some will go to eternal life and the others to eternal damnation. In a familiar way Matthew reminds us of how we will be judged. 

It is interesting that our judgment will not be based on our possessions. Just recall, have you ever seen a U-Haul truck follow a hearse to the cemetery? The degrees we have received will have little or no bearing on our judgment. Our travels, the location of our home, the balance in our savings account will not matter. 

Whether we solved the crisis in the Middle East or found a cure for AIDS, will not be the most important contribution we bring with us to Judgment Day. Everything we do will matter, but the Lord does not necessarily expect great things.

St. Matthew relates the signs of a faithful follower of Jesus: “I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave  Me a drink. I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you cared for Me, I was in prison and you visited Me.” 

None of these requirements are impossible to attain. None of them require a degree or special living arrangements. Each of these signs many people accomplish each day. 

The sons or daughters caring for their elderly parents are fulfilling the requirement mentioned by Matthew — “I was ill and you cared for Me.” The person who visits a sick person in the hospital or sends a card, or offers a prayer for a sick person does the same.

The words of Matthew’s Gospel are not to be taken literally. We do not have to visit a jail to fulfill the precept — “I was in prison and you visited Me.” Many people are imprisoned by loneliness or addiction, and can be helped by our prayers, visits and concern. 

“I was hungry and you fed Me” does not mean you need to roam the streets of your community feeding the hungry. But it does mean that you bring food to church so that the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society can share it with the needy in your parish and community. It also means that, if your circumstances permit, you volunteer for a local food panty to help feed the hungry.

I am mindful of this Gospel passage in a particular way with the change of seasons. Soon the summer shirts and clothes will be moved to make room for the winter clothes. Each year I do it faithfully, and I am sure many of you do the same. 

As I prepare to do this in a few weeks, I am recalling the words of Matthew, “I was naked and you clothed Me.” I have not seen people in New Bedford who need me to clothe them. But I do see boxes — especially the St. Vincent de Paul boxes — that accept clothes to distribute to the needy. In some areas of our diocese, there are stores sponsored by the Vincentians that assist the needy in so many ways.

Summer is over and perhaps as you and I prepare for the winter season, we should remember the call of the Lord to “clothe the naked” and share our excess clothing with those in need. We should also remember the other challenges in Matthew’s Gospel.

 Anchor columnist Msgr. Oliveira is pastor of St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford and director of the diocesan Propagation of the Faith and Permanent Diaconate offices.

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