Lean on Me


Some years ago I was part of a youth weekend at Lancing College in England. Their school chapel is a great neo Gothic church perched on the side of a hill. We wanted the young people to understand the poverty in the developing world, so we set them a project: they had to go into the nearby town and beg or borrow or find building materials to make themselves a shelter.
The kids took it in good spirit and soon came back with a rag tag collection of cardboard, old wood, plastic sheeting, rope and what have you. That afternoon they built their shanty village, and in a stroke of genius one of them asked if they could build their houses up against the chapel. Before long there were a collection of cardboard, plastic and tin shacks squatting up against the beautiful Gothic chapel. A good number of the students slept in their shacks that night.
It led to a discussion on the relationship between the rich church of the already developed world and the poor church in the developing world. Who leans on whom? It appeared of course, that the little shanties were leaning against the great rich chapel for support, and of course they were. However, to stand the whole thing on its head, what if the chapel were also leaning against those poor shanties?
Mother Teresa used to talk about the ‘poverty of the rich’ and the ‘wealth of the poor’. We experienced it last week in El Salvador. The simple village Mass in La Herradura was more full of love and power than many a masses I’ve been to. Yes, the altar linens were dirty, the music was a fiddle, an accordian, a guitar and plenty of latin gusto, but the Holy Spirit was present in a way that changed our lives.
I don’t think we gave very much to our good brothers and sisters of El Salvador. Instead they gave us more than I could have imagined.
I lean on them. I hope they do not mind carrying me.
After all, I ain’t heavy. I’m their brother.
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  • Anonymous

    The Church of the Apostles and all its revelation cannot exist without the poor, they are the wounded aspect of the Christ that is in the Church, the broken body and broken bread of the Eucharist. This is the thought process dramatically absent from the papacies-even such wonderful papacies’ as B16 and JP2-that the poor are not dependent on the Church, that the Church is dependent on this particular type of revelation of Christ. A Church without the poor is a poor church.Dan Conway

  • A couple years ago, my wife and I and some friends took a vacation in Costa Rica at an upscale resort. We arrived on a Saturday afternoon, and as we were checking in I asked about mass the next day. I figured I was in a Catholic country – how hard could it be. The guy checking us in was stumped – he had no idea. But he promised he would find out.As we came in for dinner he came up to us very apologetic and said the resort had brought in a priest for those guests who wanted to attend mass earlier that afternoon and we had missed it.I pointed out that I just didn’t believe that there was no way to get to mass the next day. (It’s a Catholic country for crying out loud.) I reminded him that I had a car and was willing to drive to get to the nearest mass. He came back with a map and instructions on how to get to mass at the near-by fishing village the next morning. We found the church after a few wrong turns. We passed it once because we thought it must be the old, abandoned, church. It was a very old clapboard church. At least it was air-conditioned; there were so many holes in the walls that the air blew right through. The breeze was nice in the tropical heat. Next door was a construction site where they were building a new concrete block church to replace the one we were in. Everyone was in their Sunday best, even if that was just a clean pair of blue jeans and a clean t-shirt. Some of the kids had been so recently scrubbed that their hair was still wet. After the place was filled to standing room only, the priest arrived, together with the sacristan and the cantor (i.e., the guitar player); apparently riding circuit. The absence of a sacristy meant the priest vested up at the altar, with his back to the congregation.I speak no Spanish and they didn’t seem to speak any English, but it was the mass. (If I am going to make a habit of this, I may need to learn some Spanish.) At the sign of peace our eyes and our smiles communicated what needed to be said. I felt honored that this community welcomed us to share in their worship and delighted that we had missed the mass at the resort the previous afternoon.

  • Anonymous

    How hard would it have been to wash the altar linens for the ‘source and summit of our Faith’ – the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass?

  • El Salvador is a pretty dirty place. It’s possible that the altar linens were washed, but got soiled after being put on the altar.

  • It might also be that the linens are not just “soiled,” but stained. Of course, the proper thing to do would be to toss out the old ones and buy some new linens. After which maybe they can use cake during the Eucharist if they can’t afford bread.

  • Wow, John, your love of the poor is really showing through.Another blog (non-Catholic Christian seminary professor) posted a sermon about the Sermon on the Mount: Don’t worry, be happy, the Lord will provide.I comboxed: waaaaaait a minute. You have to think about the WHOLE sermon on the mount. Don’t concern yourself with ostentation; the Lord will provide our daily bread, not our daily bling/Hummer H2/big screen TV/McMansion. Also, do NOT store up for yourselves treasures on this earth that moths and rust destroy and thieves break in and steal.Moths don’t attack clothes people are wearing; just all that excess in their walk-in closet. Rust doesn’t attack stuff that’s in use (except salty Northern cars)–only excess stuff. Thieves only break in and steal what inspires envy–your ostentation.You fear the poor because you hoard instead of providing for them, storing your grain up in barns and your lucre in IRAs. You hoard because you fear being poor because no one is looking after them. It’s a vicious cycle.”The Lord will provide”–we always picture our own selves on the receiving end of getting the goodies from the big ol’ Santa in the sky. Nope. God blessed many of us with material abundance in this, the richest nation on earth and in history. Perhaps…God provides for the poor THROUGH ME?! And that’s a part of living out the image and likeness?What about Luke’s version of the Beatitudes–which are immediately connected with WOES pronounced on the rich!Consider this in the light of the Rich Young Man, the Rich Man and Lazarus (the same rich man, perhaps, experiencing the consequences of his decision?), and Jesus’ direct teaching about our salvation in Mt 25–is this rockin’ you at all? Does this sound like the name it and claim it, blab it and grab it “gospel”?I’m going straight from the Bible–no Catholic encrustations. What does the WORD say? Search the Scriptures!Mt 5-7 Sermon on the MountLk 6:17-49 Luke’s version that includes the woes pronounced on the rich and well-fedMt 19:16-30 The rich young man goes away sad (some interpret this section to mean that God can save the rich anyway–how? Read on to Mt 25)Lk 16:19-31 Lazarus and the Rich ManLk 1:51-53 Mary’s Magnificat also has the double blessing/woe formulationMt 25:31-46 what happens to those who are generous to the needy? and those who aren’t? Yikes, this doesn’t sound like it’s just a matter of accepting Jesus as your personal lord and savior. Because this is JESUS teaching you about salvation here: not some nineteenth century circuit riding tent revival preacher making up a new formula for salvation out of whole cloth. New teachings that tickle the ears–a new and improved gospel–hmm, what does Scripture say about that?So, are those wealthy young mission trip kids ever going to hear the Good News of their part in God’s provision for the poor?The poor you will always have with you–as an opportunity for salvation and sanctification and living in the image and likeness of Abba Father, from whom the blessings come. Receive abundance, share abundance. The hungry He has filled with good things–and the rich he sends empty away because they had their consolation in this life.Be generous to the poor and work with and for them face to face. That will make you want to quit hoarding and not fear being poor. Be generous to the poor in your community and especially to those in poorer countries who don’t even have their basic needs met. The poor in America can be fat if they want–the poor in some other countries die of starvation.Mt 25 is also the Good News, except it doesn’t feel good if we want to spend all our money on ourselves and hoard it up to become rich and powerful.And I haven’t even gotten into the OT prophets’ words about oppressing the poor. I’m running out of steam though…maybe another time.And, as always, I am primarily preaching at myself.

  • Oh and I forgot to say, great post, Fr. Dwight! Preach it, brother!