‘Where is your brother?’

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Let us assume, for the sake of illustration, that two inhabitants of Enceladus, a small planet in the rings of Saturn, should, by some strange coincidence, find themselves standing on a busy street corner in New York. Unacquainted with creatures of Earth, they note that these thousands of individuals passing by are of various sizes, color of skin and physical profile; they assume perhaps that they have simply emigrated from different locales on the planet. One particular factor that astonishes these two visitors is that each of these earthlings seems to be in a hurry, perhaps on a private journey … going somewhere … anywhere. Moreover, many also seem to be consulting a small hand-held device or holding it to their ear, even bumping into one another as they stride swiftly along. Did these earth creatures live private lives, having little concern for one another or were they simply trying to get along by themselves as best they could? All this left the two Enceladians puzzled. Life on their planet seemed more sensible!

While this scenario may be slightly exaggerated, it does describe life in any metropolitan city on any given day. Many of us live our lives at top speed, seldom sharing much concern for our earthly neighbors.

The words of Adam and Eve’s son, Cain, often come to mind: “Where is your brother Abel,” God says to Cain. “Who knows,” replies Cain. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It is a response that has been causing us much anguish through the ages and will continue until we say, “Yes, I am my brother or sister’s keeper.”

Now, the question we earthlings must ask ourselves is this: Where in Scripture and in the life of the church can we find foundation for such a serious undertaking? In Scripture there are countless references to the love of God and love of neighbor. This is the foundational law we received from our Jewish ancestors. In Saint Paul’s letter to his Roman disciples, for instance, he writes: “Owe no debt to anyone except the debt that binds us to love one another.” In Saint Matthew’s Gospel assigned for Sunday, Sept. 10, Jesus makes it clear that if we are at odds with someone, our task is to make peace privately; if that is not successful, then the counsel of the church should be solicited. We have no other option than to be our neighbor’s keeper.

In practical terms, of course, being our brother and sister’s keeper works best in the community of the church, the Body of Christ. It is in the local parish where people know each other most intimately. Does our church have a food pantry available, a clothes hamper, people willing to staff these works on a regular basis? How are visitors welcomed? How are the poor served? Is the local church willing to move beyond its own parish boundaries to find those in need?

Finally, a good example of being a “keeper” is Pope Francis, pastor of the universal Catholic Church. Some while ago he ordered the following facilities to be set up near the Vatican: a homeless shelter, a facility for people to bathe and, finally, a public laundry with six washers and dryers, all this for the use of people who have no other access to the normal necessities of life. Can you think of a more practical way to show that we are truly our brother or sister’s keeper?

Sept. 10 Scriptures

Ezekiel 33: 7-9

Romans 13: 8-10

Matthew 18: 15-20

The writer formerly served the Anchorage Archdiocese. He now lives in Notre Dame, Ind.


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