Homily: Loving Stray Cats

September 13, 2018

Gospel reading: Luke 6:27-38

Homily originally delivered at school Mass at Bishop Chatard High School, Indianapolis in September of 2015:

I have been working with the homeless population for nearly five years, taking food and other necessities out to the homeless camps with an organization called HOOP. On one of my first outings, I was handing a cup of soup to a man lying on the sidewalk in 20-degree temperatures. As I did so, a couple came out of their apartment across the street. They said to me, pointing to the homeless man on the sidewalk, “You need to stop feeding these people. They’re like stray cats, they’ll just keep coming back looking for more.”

“These people.”

“Stray cats.”

The homeless man was not deaf. He heard himself being referred to as a stray cat. He heard others consider him as being less than human.

I ignored them and went about my business, but I was angry at their insensitivity and their “quick to judge” attitude.

An hour later, we pulled into one of our regular stops, a church parking lot. There were 5-6 men in line to get soup and a sandwich. A man drove into the parking lot, got out of what was a pretty nice car, and walked toward us. He was dressed well, nice shirt and sport coat. I assumed he was someone else who wanted to complain to us about what we were doing.

He continued walking toward us, then stepped into the food line. When he got to the front of the line, I felt awkward. I was thinking, “This guy doesn’t need this food. What is he doing?”

I handed him some food, but it made me uncomfortable. This was stealing as far as I was concerned, taking food from people who really needed it.

I shared my frustration with another worker. “Did you see that guy? Should I have refused to give him anything?”

He said: “Give people whatever they ask for. It’s not our place to judge.”

He continued: “By the way, the man you just gave food to runs a small business down by the river. There is a homeless man living on his property and he brings him food every day.”

I was no different than the couple that called the homeless man a stray cat. I stood in judgment of someone else.

We heard in Luke’s Gospel this morning: “Stop judging and you will not be judged. Stop condemning and you will not be condemned.”

Sometimes when I am preparing a homily, I will use Google image. I enter the gospel passage and click ‘image’.

When I clicked the image button for Luke 6:27-38, one of the images that came up on the screen was the picture you see on our screen right now. (The image is the shadow of an everyday man carrying a cross, with the words ‘Fearless Giving’ in large letters across it)

How did we get “Fearless Giving” from today’s Gospel?

The fact is that most of us would never do what that couple did – we would never call someone a stray cat to his face. Most of us consider ourselves nice people. However, the gospel is telling us that it is not enough to be nice to our friends. What defines us as Christians is how we treat strangers.

To love our family and friends is easy. To love strangers, to love others that are different than us, or to love our enemies – that takes guts. That is fearless giving. When you show that kind of love you are putting yourself out there. You’re making yourself vulnerable. You have to be fearless.

You may still be thinking, “I really am nice to everyone!”

What about the person you avoid because they are annoying? What about the people you talk about behind their backs? What about the people you refer to as “those people” because they don’t think and act like you do? What about the people you never interact with, the people you simply ignore?

Here are two scenarios:

  1. Person #1 walks up to a homeless person and calls him a stray cat.
  2. Person #2 sees that same homeless person every day as he leaves his home. He never makes eye contact with him. He walks around him. If he calls out, Person #2 pretends he doesn’t hear him.

Regardless of the scenario, the results are exactly the same. That homeless person believes he has no value. He has been judged ‘unlovable’.

Two more scenarios:

  1. Person #1 targets someone different than himself to bully.
  2. Person #2 sees that same person everyday in the hallway. He never makes contact. He never speaks to her, even if he accidentally bumps into her. If she sits next to him at lunch, he slides over to the next seat. If she tries to enter his group’s conversation, he cuts her off.

The results are exactly the same. That person believes she has no value. She has been judged ‘unlovable’.

You know what? We are nice. We are all nice people, but we don’t always love as we should.

Jesus was very clear: “Love God. Love others.”

He didn’t say, “Choose a few people to love.” He means for us to love everyone, especially those we find difficult to love. It takes guts.

It requires fearless giving.

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