Empathy and Equity

Homily for October 29, 2017 (30th Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Exodus 22:20-26; 1 Thessalonians 1:15c-10; Matthew 22:34-40

Have you ever considered the connection between books and feminine hygiene products?  Probably not!  But thankfully, Adriana Flores did.  Ms. Flores, who is completing a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree at Michigan State University, grew up in a middle-class family not far from East Lansing.  In conversations with women who lived at a nearby housing project, she discovered that many of them couldn’t afford to buy personal hygiene products because other family needs like food, clothing, and shelter had to come first.  Some resorted to improvised solutions—creative but unhygienic and potentially dangerous ways to meet their needs. 

Adriana Flores wanted to find a practical and sensitive way to help them.  She looked around and found inspiration in the “free library” stands near the housing project, places where people could freely drop off or take books.  Following that model, she started the E² Project.  The two E’s stand for Equity and Empathy.  With the support of family members, friends and other volunteers, E² has opened its first personal hygiene stand and it already a success.  Adriana hopes to develop more.

Our scripture readings for today’s Mass invite us to cultivate the virtues of empathy and equity together.  Putting ourselves in the shoes of another person is important, but it won’t go very far if they don’t have shoes.  Speaking through the law that Moses had received, God admonished the people of Israel to remember the time that they were slaves in Egypt not only to have empathy for those who were vulnerable—immigrants, widows, orphans and debtors—but also to treat them with dignity and justice.   Just as God had been compassionate to them in their suffering, they needed to have that same compassion and care for others.

Jesus reinforced the pairing of empathy and equity in his answer to the scholar who asked him about the greatest commandment of the Law.  Repeating the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:5—a command so sacred that orthodox Jews today still recite it at least twice a day—Jesus reminded them that love of God and love of neighbor are inseparable.  The clearest way that we show that we love God is how we treat God’s other children, especially those who are discounted, demeaned and deemed disposable.

This isn’t just a matter of personal or individual ethics, it also involves us as communities.  St. Paul in our second reading praised the church at Thessalonica for the way in which they demonstrated the power of their collective example of empathy and equity, particularly the support they provided in collections for other churches.  This weekend, the Archdiocese of Chicago is asking us to take up a second collection for the victims of recent natural disasters in Mexico and Puerto Rico. Imagine what life would be like if you didn’t have a roof over your head, electricity, cell phone and internet service or even clean drinking water.  Imagine what that would be like for a day…for a week…for a month.  Please remember that feeling and do what you can to help. +