Year of Mercy - Sheltering the Homeless and Less Fortunate
Thursday, 11 February 2016 00:00


 The Year of Mercy


'Sheltering the Homeless'

EDITOR'S NOTE: We offer this series of reflections on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy in observance of the Year of Mercy, promulgated by Pope Francis. The jubilee year began on Dec. 8, 2015, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, and will end on Nov. 20, 2016, the Feast of Christ the King.

By Sister Mary McCormick, O.S.U.

Pope Francis began his letter declaring the Year of Mercy by calling Jesus "the face of the Father's mercy." In his ministry, Jesus responded to the needs of the people he met with loving compassion that took expression in action. Throughout the history of the Church, followers of Jesus have looked for ways to imitate the life and ministry of Jesus.

Traditionally, these have been called the Corporal Works of Mercy. Among them is the call to shelter the homeless. During this Year of Mercy we are to shelter the homeless in our own families, in our local communities, and in response to the global crisis of the homeless.

We remember well, from the Scripture readings at Christmas, that Jesus began his life in a state of homelessness. He was born in the midst of his parents' journey to Bethlehem, and "there was no room for them in the inn" (Lk 2:7). Later in his adult life he acknowledged that "foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head" (Matt 8:20; Luke 9:58).

So what does it mean to "shelter the homeless?"  I think there are several ways in which we can understand this.

First, within family life, responsible adults help to shelter the homeless. Parents provide a home for their children. Among many families today, this includes taking back into the home young grown children. And, later in life, middle-aged adults often provide a home for their aging parents. Sometimes the need for providing shelter for older adults comes because of health concerns or infirmity. Other times there are financial reasons why older adults need help with shelter. For the most part, all of these ways of providing "shelter to the homeless" is done gladly and with open hearts and hands.

Second, every local area needs to be concerned about people who are homeless within the community, especially in harsh weather. The face of the homeless in the United States includes single people who are poor and those with mental illness. However it is increasingly becoming families and single women with dependent children. For a while these women may live with family members, but they end up spending the night in a car, in a shelter or in some other place for temporary refuge. Sheltering the homeless includes finding ways to help these people – single and families – to find a place they can call home.

Related to the needs of the homeless in a local area are needs of people with special needs, e.g., group homes for people with mental illness and housing for those recently released from prison. Each local community needs to respond with mercy to the housing needs of the poor, including in our "backyards."

Third, we have all been witnesses to the most recent refugee crises. For several months we have seen the pictures and read the stories of men, women, and children who are fleeing their homelands because of war, violence, drugs, poverty, and other forms of abuse. Recent statistics state that more than 60 million people worldwide are refugees, the highest number globally since the end of World War II.

There is no country on Earth that can instantly house that many people, but if people in the developed world found ways together to help resettle these people on the move, everyone would be better off.

One of the feasts in the Octave of Christmas is that of the Holy Innocents. With the threat of violence because of Herod, the Holy Family fled their homeland to Egypt where they lived until it was safe to return home. Can we be any less generous than the 1st century Egyptians, receiving other holy families who are looking for a home in safety?

During this Year of Mercy, may we imitate Jesus in being the Father's face of mercy, as we shelter the homeless in our families, in our local communities, and in response to the global crisis of the homeless.