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Charity: A sign of hope in the community

Posted: November 27, 2011 - 1:09am

Congratulations to the Juneau Community Foundation which announced this past week that it has met its goal for the Glory Hole Donation Match challenge, in fact, in advance of its deadline. Over $10,000 was collected and a matching gift will be given by the Juneau Community Foundation to the Glory Hole. This is good news as many will be seeking a warm meal and a place to stay during the upcoming challenges of winter.

In addition to this news, the community was blessed by the efforts on Thanksgiving Day through which 200 families benefited from the Salvation Army’s annual Thanksgiving dinner at the Hangar on the Wharf as 50 volunteers showed up to assist.

As these items made the news this past week, the concerns of the people of Juneau were also expressed through the efforts of the Juneau Homeless Coalition. Their task seeks to provide solutions for the “500–600 people in Juneau who are without a home.” The issue of homelessness is often coupled with a number of other problems (i.e., alcoholism, despair, mental illness, etc.) which makes dealing with the issue all the more challenging.

This time between Thanksgiving and Christmas has always been marked as a time of giving. From my perspective, the measure of any community can be judged by how they respond to the needs of the poor and marginalized. And through the charitable acts mentioned above, hope is brought into a community and, most directly, into the lives of those in need.

This time before Christmas is also known as Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word ‘adventus,’ which means ‘to come,’ and looks to the past, present and future comings of Jesus into our world. At the heart of the season of Advent is that urgent longing for the coming of a Savior. This is a past event, the birth of Jesus at Bethlehem which we remember and celebrate at Christmas and a future event, as we look forward during Advent to his coming at the end of time to bring all things to their completion in him. And there is the present coming of Jesus, when he makes himself known to those with “eyes to see” and “ears to hear.”

In my faith tradition, November is the month when we remember those who have died. The month begins with the feast of All Saints and the next day with the commemoration of all the faithful departed, known as All Souls. But in addition to remembering our beloved dead, we reflect during the month of November, as well as during the Advent season on our own mortality, meditating on what are traditionally called “the four last things” — death, judgment, heaven and hell.

Our shared mortality is an uncomfortable subject for people, including many Catholics, but one that is important to face and reflect upon. We know too well that our time on this earth is actually quite brief. While we do not know the day or the hour, or know if accident, illness or age will bring our lives to a close, we do know that none of us can escape death. Thus, we anticipate the coming of the Lord, not only at the end of time but at the end of each of our lives.

In the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel, the Lord in his glory on the last day addresses all of the nations, saying to the righteous that when he was hungry they fed him, thirsty, they gave him drink, naked they clothed him, a stranger they welcomed him, sick or in prison, they visited him. They then ask, when did they do these things? And Jesus replies, as often as you did these things for the least of my brothers and sisters, you did them to me.

Our Lord is present to us through the neighbor who is in need. How? That God, incarnate in Jesus, identifies himself completely and unconditionally with all those who are poor, who are vulnerable and who are in need. Each person was created in God’s image. If we understand and believe this, then every day we meet our neighbor who is in need is the day we encounter Christ through them. Advent becomes not simply a season of the year but a daily event.

All of the great religious traditions represented in our nation and in our community: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, the Bahai faith, as well as the spirituality of Native Americans and Alaska Natives, are in agreement that charity and generosity towards the neighbor in need is at the heart of living a morally good life that is pleasing to God.

Despite the constant exhortations to buy and spend, I notice with gratitude that during the weeks before Christmas there is great goodwill towards the poor and the vulnerable and a desire to do good to our neighbor. However secularized the celebration of Christmas has become, charity and generosity are truly the spirit of the season.

• Burns is the Roman Catholic Bishop of the Diocese of Juneau and Southeast Alaska.

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