LONELY AND AT RISK
HOMILY – 22ND SUNDAY OT [B] – 2 Sept 2012 – [MARK, 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23]
An item in yesterday’s paper highlighted loneliness as a creeping social disease. The General Social Survey by Statistics NZ reveals that more than half a million New Zealanders feel lonely all or most of the time. Last year, the British government introduced a Ministry for Loneliness. Could such a portfolio be needed here?
St James in the second reading tells us that – Pure, unspoilt religion is this: coming to the help of orphans and widows and keeping oneself uncontaminated by the world. He leaves us in no doubt that purity, cleanliness, in God’s sight is connected to efforts at ensuring the needy and vulnerable are protected. Orphans and widows were the “at risk” people at the time of Jesus; who are the “at risk” ones today? Are they the lonely people?
You might wonder why people need to be lonely with all the social networks available through technology today, but apparently it is precisely these advances – such as Facebook and Instagram – that are disconnecting people. And the most lonely are not the elderly or the widowed but the 15-24 year-olds – the age group that is plugged into the electronic world.
Moses [1st Reading] tells the people that the laws and customs are like identity tags; they define the People of God. A consequence of this was the love of neighbor – the practical application of the law that bonded individuals together as a people. The tradition of washing hands and dishes was certainly good hygiene, but it lost value if relationships were contaminated. And that is what Jesus is stressing: observing traditions is useless if you ignore any human need among you Our tradition of gathering week by week to worship the God revealed by Jesus in Eucharist is important, indeed vital, for our spiritual nourishment. But what if we are neglecting those among us who feel alone and isolated? Most of you come here knowing someone else; you sit with the people you know and you feel good. But if you’re here on your own, has anyone spoken to you? How welcome do you feel? Our concern for the lonely must start in this gathering, right now! [introduce yourself to those around you]
The lonely are among the most “at risk” people today because the condition can be a prelude to depression and self-doubt and a precursor to suicide. Why live, if I feel I’m a nobody and that I cannot connect with anybody?
A quality of true fatherhood is identifying with your family to the point where your own life is secondary to the good and welfare of each member. If we all took that approach there’d be no room for loneliness.