What is our responsibility to others?
My friend Jim died thirteen years ago and yet he is somehow as present with me today as he was while still alive. Perhaps more so. Sometimes, I think he haunts me - but always in a good way. Helping me to do my best, telling me to not be too hard on myself, but most importantly, to carry on his message of hope and love.
Jim, or Fr. Healy, was my pastor. He was a Catholic priest who died of AIDS. Somewhat controversial in the mid-nineties. I remember being totally surprised of his diagnosis. Not because I ever really believed that priests were perfect, always celibate, or anything like that. No, I was surprised because it was hard to believe that Jim had personal passions. He drove an old station wagon and only seemed passionate about establishing a greater social justice in our world.
A gifted and animated liturgist, I listened to him, filled with the fire of love for his sisters and brothers, nearly beg and plead for those of us in the pews of that humble, concrete block church to take action. Write our congressperson, donate some of our treasure, make a meal for the homeless shelter. Anything, but something. His message is simple , hopeful, and tough. It goes something like this:
God is love and mercy. God lives within each of us and therefore we have a responsibility to help our brothers and sisters. We will be weak, at times, and we may even stumble, but God always loves us. God forgives us - always and unconditionally. That isn’t to be questioned. The only question that we need to ponder is how we can use the unique gifts that we’ve received to make this earthly experience better for everyone. Not everyone, but those illegal immigrants. Not everyone, but those Republicans (or Democrats) with whom we disagree. Not everyone, but those who don’t work hard enough and pull themselves up by their bootstraps. No, just everyone. Period. Do something. Now.
It’s a message that is both uplifting and hugely challenging. Perhaps it’s that message that haunts me because of its power in my life. And the power to change the world. I want to believe that we can do that. I want to raise my son in a way that he will grow up to believe this message. That he will own his responsibility for being part of it. For doing his share.
I believe in Jim’s message so much that I’ve created a blog where his weekly homilies can be heard as podcasts decades after he first delivered them. Although this isn’t an advertisement for that site, those interested can check it out at www.fatherhealy.com Listening to his messages again now, week after week, brings tears to my eyes once more. It also brings a renewed sense of urgency to do more.
I guess what amazes me most about my being haunted by Jim and his words is that somehow he’s penetrated the core of my being. Struck gold, as it were. I know there’s no going back, only looking forward, always questioning my role and my responsibilities to others. I wish I were as selfless as these words may make me appear, but I do wonder out loud here what our world might be like if we each did more for others. Like my mother’s handwritten reminder on her refrigerator says, “I live simply so that others may simply live.” How can I live more simply is a great question.
But how we take action seems important too. I remember from my sophomore year Basic Judaism class that there is a commandment in the old testament that says that farmers should leave one corner of their crop unharvested. Doing so means that those needing food can retrieve what they need, but without the shame or embarrassment of having to go to the center of the field where they might be seen. Just as Jim’s words of love, hope, and responsibility have stayed with me throughout the years, this biblical story has as well.
In today’s modern world, where few of us are farmers, but all of us with gifts, what field might we leave unharvested so that others may eat?