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Mass for the Deceased Homeless
November 11, 2016

 I think it’s very fitting that we are offering this Mass for the deceased homeless people of our city on the day the Church celebrates the feast of St. Martin of Tours.  St. Martin was the bishop of Tours, a town in eastern France, and a very popular saint in the early church.  As a young man, Martin heard the teachings of Christ and, against the wishes of his parents, enrolled as a catechumen in the Church. Shortly thereafter, he got conscripted into the Roman army. As the story goes, one day as Martin was approaching the gates of the city of Amiens on his horse, he happened to see a naked beggar by the roadside. He stopped, cut his military cloak in half, and gave it to the beggar.  That night, Martin saw Jesus in a dream wearing the half-cloak he had given away, and he heard Jesus saying, “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe!”

 You see why I said it was fitting that we offer this Mass for the deceased homeless people of our city on St. Martin’s feast.  What a perfect example he gives of what it means to live the Christian gospel by reaching out to the poor and needy!

 So, the day is right, but what about the place? Isn’t it a bit incongruous to be remembering and praying for the deceased homeless in a grand place like this?  Does it make sense to come to a beautiful house of God like this to remember people who had no house, no home?

That’s a good question, but I like Dorothy Day’s take on it -- Dorothy Day, the great 20th century prophet and voice for the poor. She once remarked that we need beautiful churches like this because, for many poor and homeless people, they are the only places they can really call home, the only places where they can go to find peace, comfort, safe refuge and yes, beauty.  And she was right, of course, as any of you who are regulars here at St. James know very well.

 And I would also add that there is actually a connection – or there should be – between beautiful cathedrals like this and serving the poor.  So much of what goes on here day after day – and the same is true of so many of our churches and parishes - so much that goes on here is carried out by people who first come here for Mass and who then leave this place to serve the poor and to advocate on their behalf. That’s how they make sense of the gospel they hear and the Eucharist they receive.  Catholic worship in beautiful buildings is never just for itself. Far from it. Our worship awakens our consciences and inspires us to go out and do everything we can to make this a better, more just, more loving, more compassionate world.

 The reading from Isaiah put all this in very blunt terms.    Heads bowed in worship, solemn feasts, fasting, sackcloth and ashes, are not enough. God wants more from us.  God wants us to find ways to (in the words of Isaiah) release those bound unjustly, set free the oppressed, share our bread with the hungry, shelter the oppressed and the homeless, clothe the naked. Only in this way, the prophet says, will God listen to our prayer, only in this way will our light shine forth in the darkness of a world that seems to grow darker by the day.

The reading from Luke’s gospel reminded us that Jesus himself was homeless, Jesus who was poor and who had no place to lay his head.  And the challenge for us who would follow him is to care for the poor and serve them as he did, yes, but also to find ways to be poor ourselves.  And what a scary thought that is. I can’t speak for you but I can tell you it’s a scary thought for me!

 My friends, it’s homeless and poor people who have brought us here tonight -- our homeless and poor brothers and sisters who died on our streets or in our shelters this past year -- including those who died violent deaths or took their own lives.  We are here to remember them and commend them to God, yes, but we are also here to acknowledge that we ourselves are not without blame when it comes to what happened to them.  We’re not.  We live in the wealthiest, most prosperous country the world has ever known; we live in a vibrant and affluent city; we live, most of us, quite comfortably, while the poor live on the margins, the far outer margins of our conspicuous abundance.  Often they live, if not out of sight, certainly, out of mind.  Right here in King County at this very moment, nearly 8,000 people are homeless – 3200 of them staying in overnight shelters, 4500 of them on the streets without a roof over their heads or a bed to sleep in, or any of the other basics of life. Many of them - too many - suffer from mental illness that goes untreated.  Night after night, they sleep outside in dark corners, in doorways, under bridges and overpasses, and in their cars.  This past year, 89 of these homeless people died – many of them unnoticed, unattended, and un-mourned.

We remember them tonight, we mourn them, and we pray for them.  With heavy hearts and uneasy consciences we commend their souls to God, confident that even though they were without a home when they were here with us, they now have a home with God; confident, too, that the peace that alluded them during their time here is now theirs forever.

May they rest in peace.  And may we not rest peacefully until we have done everything we can to make the scandal of homelessness – now more than ever - our nation’s priority, our city’s priority, our personal priority, and, yes, our sacred mission!

Father Michael G. Ryan

 

 

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Seattle, Washington  98104
Phone 206.622.3559  Fax 206.622.5303