Yesterday, there was a meeting for Get On the Bus, a non-profit organization that facilitates trips for children to visit their parents who are incarcerated. The program began in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, but with many families living in our Diocese as well, many have been involved in this program for years. Children from the Diocese of Fresno have benefitted greatly from this program, as many have not seen their parent in years. We are hoping to encourage a renewed involvement in the program.
In reflecting on this program, the comments made by current volunteers stayed in my mind throughout the day. We often do not realize the suffering or the situation of others, and rather than judge, we need to open our hearts and minds to them in order to discover how we can then serve them. It is easy to make assumptions about people in prison, but once a human face is part of the journey, all our assumptions can easily fall away.
This is a thought that is echoed in Pope Francis’ message for the Twenty-Ninth World Youth Day 2014. Focusing on the theme for this year, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God,” the message begins by pointing out the true meaning of poverty. We learn that the Greek word for poor, ptochós, is linked to the Jewish notion of “God’s poor.” Rather than focus only on material poverty, in expands to include lowliness, a sense of limitation and humility.
How can we become “poor in spirit”? There are three ways pointed out. First, we need to be free with regard to material things. Instead of focusing on the things we think we must have, we live what only what we need and let go of the need to always have the newest and the best of everything. Second, we have to change the way we see the poor. We have to go out and meet them, to truly see who they are, as beloved children of God. Moving from judging or making assumptions, we instead enter into conversation and open our ears to them. Which leads to the third point: they have much to offer us and to teach us. When we open our hearts to others, we will be changed internally. Our view will change very naturally to who we are rather than what we possess. As Pope Francis said, “the logic of being more
will prevail over that of having more.”
What an amazing message, not just for the youth, but for all of us. An organization like Get On the Bus lives out what is said in this message. The organizers and volunteers do more than provide a service, they provide support, both in the practical and in the spiritual. They are a shoulder to lean on as well as a guide in a process that can be scary and difficult. A need was seen in these children who do not have access to their parents, and was met by arranging this to happen. And the joy in the eyes of the children, and for some, the relationships that are formed make them richer than any amount of money ever could.
I have heard many people lamenting that our youth are so concerned with what they own and the labels they bear. I say that if this is ever to change, it will be by adults as well as youth heeding the words of our Holy Father. How many of us are really living lives without concern of the material? I can honestly say that at home I have at least seven boxes filled with “stuff” that I haven’t looked at since I moved to Fresno, one year ago this week! How many of us step out of our comfort zone to help those in need, not through charity by giving money, but by getting to know the needs and trying to fill them as Get On the Bus does? Are we prepared to leave our comfortable place and be changed?
And isn’t that what Lent is all about? What better time to begin to reexamine our lives and see how we are one of the “poor in spirit”, one of those who puts the love of God and others above all in life?
I put forth this challenge: take a step further this Lent and in addition to the traditional “giving something up”, find a way to push yourself forward on the road to change. A program like Get On the Bus (www.getonthebus.us
), or activities available through Catholic Relief Services (www.crs.org
or download their new app!) or through the USCCB website (www.usccb.org
) are a good place to start.
Let us focus on being more
this Lenten season that we may truly rise as a new creation Easter Sunday!