A friend of mine, a man whom I know well, offered to sacrifice some of his own time to alleviate one of his female coworkers’ anxiety by taking up some of her duties that had been assigned to her. Two days after he had offered to help her out, he was stunned to learn that her mom had prayed to St. Anthony for assistance prior to his offering to help. My friend was thrilled when he learned that he was chosen by St. Anthony, or by the Lord through the intercession of St. Anthony, to be the answer to his coworker’s mom’s prayer while his coworker’s mom was also thrilled that her prayer was answered unexpectedly and miraculously quickly.
When I heard about this, I thought of one particular question. It is the first known question asked by man – Am I my brother’s keeper?
Cain said to his brother Abel, “Let us go out in the field.” When they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord asked Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” He answered, “I do not know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” ( Genesis 4: 8 – 9 )
Our Gospel value, in a nutshell, is the answer to that question. And the answer is – “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper.”
I have heard a challenge from an atheist: “Next time when you see your God, please ask him why he allows evil people to be prosperous if he is love. Why does he let the good and innocent people suffer? Where is the justice?” To this challenge, I think we should answer, not ask, this question when we see our God next time. He may ask us, “Did you follow my commandments? Would you please tell me why so many evil people are prosperous? And why do so many good and innocent people still suffer? What did you do to help your suffering neighbours to alleviate their pain?”
I attended a prayer meeting a few days ago. Inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, we were reminded to find God in all things. We were reminded that Jesus is still suffering in many parts of this world today, especially in Haiti. In fact, the suffering Jesus is not only in the tabernacles all over the world, He is also in hospitals, in jails, in factories, in our workplaces, etc. He is suffering in the people and with the people who are suffering. We have been called to imitate St. Veronica who wiped His face when He was carrying His cross to Calvary. We have been called to imitate Simon, the man of Cyrene, who was forced to take up His cross, to help our neighbours to carry parts or all of their crosses. We have been taught by St. Paul to help one another to fulfil the law of Christ. He said, “Help carry one another’s burden; in that way you will fulfil the law of Christ.” ( Galatians 6:2 )
When responding to God’s question, Cain’s response was one of callousness. Likewise, many of us would say, “I feel sorry but I’m busy. I don’t have time to help.” In our mind, we know we are our brothers’ keepers. We know it is a duty required, but due to our selfishness, it also becomes a duty neglected.
If we know God has loved us in the first place, and if we know He has made Himself present to us, then we must also make Him present to others. Only genuine love will help us bring the lapsed Catholics back into the Church. Only genuine love from us will bring the spiritually dead back into the bosom of God’s family.
We need not wait for something tragic happens to show our brotherly love. There are numerous opportunities each day for us to reach out to people we see every day. We can offer them reassurance and encouragement to go on their life journey. We can say comforting words to people who need them. We can give them our accessible ears, which should be attached to our heart, to provide them a chance to get something off their chest. We can give them helpful suggestions. We can pray for them. Or, just like the teaching of St. Paul, we can just be there to support the people who need our support. He said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.” ( Romans 12: 15 )
St. Paul took this concept even deeper with his sublime doctrine of the Church as the body of Christ. “If one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honoured, all the members share its joy.” ( 1 Corinthians 12: 26 ) I felt the pain when I learned some priests had betrayed Jesus when they abused the parishioners entrusted to them. I felt the anguish when my Ukrainian friend told me she would be in trouble with her government years ago if she disclosed her Catholic identity to her peers.
We can begin with people we see every day. In some families, offices, schools, etc, we may find tension everywhere. They may be in a state approximating civil war, or an armed truce. There may be a stony silence, a refusal to reconciliate. Or there may be yelling, cursing, or complaints ready to be filed. This lack of brotherly genuine love may lead to slander and cruel words. There may be tension, suspicion, anger everywhere.
In the midst of this spiritual darkness, our Catholic mission is to demonstrate our love by showing people the good side of things when they can only see the bad. Above all, we show the supernaturally good news that God still cares about His people. God needs our words, our very lives, and our actions to tell the world that He cares. We are truly blessed to be a blessing to others as we make this life journey.
Come. You have my Father’s blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me. I was ill and you comforted me, in prison and you came to visit me. Then the just will ask him: ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you drink? When did we welcome you away from home or clothe you in your nakedness? When did we visit you when you were ill or in prison?’ The king will answer them: ‘I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me.’ ( Matthew 25: 34 – 40 )