The Homeless Jesus sculpture at the cathedral. The needy are sent to us by God who wants us to embrace them with His compassionate love.

By Msgr Philip Heng, SJ

This morning, one of the “homeless poor” (Mr Chan, not his real name) came to our Cathedral of the Good Shepherd for his usual monthly financial support.

Mr Chan is 62 years old. He shared with us that he really thinks he is not going to live much longer; not more than three years, as he has many illnesses. He has been homeless for some years, sleeping on the streets.

When he came to us, he never asked for money for food. He just wanted a shelter as it was cold sleeping on void decks and street corners. His bones get very painful due to his bone degenerative disease.

One of our Cathedral Social Mission ministry volunteers noticed that when Mr Chan was waiting for his turn to be interviewed, he took out buns from his bag and shared them with the others who were in the queue. When asked about what he did, he remarked, “One bun is enough for me, the others looked hungry.” Because Mr Chan is poor and has felt cold and hunger, he felt for others.

Through our advice, he is now receiving financial assistance from SSO (Social Service Office), applied for a HDB rental flat and has a free medical card as he is very sickly. Meanwhile, our Cathedral Social Mission is providing rental for his shelter.

This morning, Mr Chan shared that he wants to nominate our cathedral as the beneficiary of his CPF, so that we can continue to help others who are poor. He shared that he has no family, friends or relatives, and he is very touched by our Church’s social outreach to him, and caring for him with dignity and respect.

Mr Chan is not a Catholic, but recently, he was seen attending Mass. I was very touched by Mr Chan’s deep gratitude and sincerity of heart. He is only one among the other many poor who come to our cathedral, with such gratitude and sincerity of heart, for monthly financial assistance.

Mr Chan has specially reaffirmed my perceptions of the “poor and needy”. They are sent to us by God who wants us to embrace them with His compassionate love and care, through our Cathedral’s Social Mission ministry.

In the living of our faith daily, each of us has certain perceptions of God, life and people. Many of us perceive the “poor and needy” narrowly and negatively, and keep a “distance” from them.

Can we honestly say to Jesus that we have deep empathy for these anawim (Hebrew: the poor who depend on the Lord’s deliverance) of our society?

How many of us feel the compassionate love of Christ for them? What if we were in their shoes, and are shunned as “shameless beggars, drunkards, the lazy and useless in society”? How would we feel if we were in their shoes?

What is Jesus saying to us during this Holy Week and Easter season? Are these anawim not precious children of God?

They also have a human heart of flesh like our spouse, children, siblings, parents and grandparents, who also feel the cold piercing their bones, the hunger pangs of an empty stomach, and the hurts of rejection by people.

Yet, many of their hearts, like Mr Chan, are filled with deep gratitude and sincerity, when we reach out to them with respect, dignity and compassion.

If we have not “seen and experienced” this side of the poor and needy, then in all probability we have “insulated and isolated” ourselves from them. If so, how then are we to experience such gratitude and sincerity in such persons of God, in our midst?

Likewise, as we prepare our hearts for Holy Week and the Easter season, let us also challenge the perceptions we have of our faith. Let us ask for God’s transforming love to challenge our perceptions of the people we relate to daily; not only the poor and needy, but especially our family, relatives, friends and Church communities.

Let us put on Christ-like perceptions, indeed the perceptions of the Risen Christ, and never assume that our present perceptions do not need to be challenged to be more in accord with God’s will.

To do this, we need the humility of heart to allow the Holy Spirit to challenge our perceptions and reframe them into more Christ-like perceptions, and continue to pray for the wisdom of openness to allow ourselves to be challenged by God’s transforming, compassionate love. 

Msgr Heng is the rector of the Cathedral of the Good Shepherd.

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