Thursday, July 7, 2011

For the Love of God

     One of my very favorite stories that Jesus tells in Sacred Scripture is that of Lazarus and the Rich Man. I feel that while it is such a short story with very few details, it is, nevertheless, so very rich in meaning. Not only does the story illustrate what it truly means to love our neighbor as ourselves, but it also conveys to the reader the wholehearted love with which we are to love God, the Highest Good.
      The story can be found in Luke 16:19. It tells how a rich man, upon his death, finds himself in Hell, and how a poor man named Lazarus is conversely eternally comforted at the end of his life on earth. The rich man is said to have “feasted sumptuously every day” while Lazarus desired the crumbs that fell from the rich man's table. One would think after reading the story the first time that the rich man is condemned to hell for the one reason that he does not share his bounty with the poor man, and that the poor man is welcomed by the Saints simply because he was poor. However, a closer look will reveal that the judgment is also based on their choice of a god. Because the rich man's god was his “stomach,”-as we can gather from the fact that he chose to eat the choicest and tastiest food every day- he failed to even recognize the needs of his neighbor who lay right outside his gate. Lazarus,on the other hand, is not even said to have begged from the rich man, only to have desired; but what's more, he desires only the scraps, in other words, only what is required for him to stay alive.
      Sacred Scripture makes it very clear that love of God and love of neighbor are interrelated, and that we cannot have one without the other. In fact, in 1 John 3:17 we read, “But if any one has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him?” Saint John then says that this is how we can be sure that we love God: precisely when we love our neighbor in this way. If we truly love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we will want him to have the same quality of food and other goods as we enjoy; and if we truly love God, we will not mind having the same quality of food that our poor brothers and sisters eat. I think we can say that the more we love our neighbor, the more we love God, and vice versa—the more we love God, the more we will love our neighbor and be willing to “give to everyone who begs from (us)” (Mt 5:42) without question because #1. we will be more likely to expect the best of our neighbor without judging and #2. we will view our material goods as they truly are, and they will not in the least have a hold on us. Our love for God will compel us to love as He loves: “for he makes his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.”(Mt 5:45)
      These are the thoughts that have been going through my mind the last few months, as I have been approached almost daily by those (and oftentimes the same ones) who are in need. I have been very humbled by the simple requests for rice and sardines, the most basic of foods here. I cannot help but feel ashamed that I have been seeking the richer tasting, more American-like foods such as cheese and dairy and sauces, when I realize how many people here go to bed hungry. I am even more ashamed when I realize that some of them have been my very closest neighbors...
Alvarez Family with Arlen
      Last week, Arlen Ocaba, one of our good friends from our first neighborhood, stopped by to pay us a visit since she had some business to attend to on our new side of town. During our conversation, a woman who lives 12 miles up in the mountains appeared on our doorstep, asking for any food we could spare. I asked pardon from Arlen as I got up to pack a bag from my pantry for the lady-Rosalinda- whom we had just recently hired to wash our clothes, as she is in desperate need of an income. When Rosalinda left, Arlen told us that she too had helped her many times before, as well as many others. She went on to say that even though she herself had little to share, she could not turn people away. She told us that there were many times when she wondered how she was going to feed her own family of six children, whom we know to be very respectful and Godly young people. She said that they all depend on her husband, who is a fisherman. There is never a guarantee of a catch. Because of this, she has taken to trying to grow seaweed to dry and sell, but it has not been so successful. With this to worry about, she often hikes up into the mountains to bring clothes and food to the people, who she says have even less. She knows the hard life of the mountain all too well. Her mother died when she was only 4. Her father then abandoned her and her two siblings and she was raised by her grandparents in the mountains. She has told us that this is what gave her such a great faith in God, because many times she found herself crying out to Him for help as a young child. Arlen told us that the poor are often judged as just lazy, but she pointed out that when you are weak from lack of food, you cannot work so easily.
      As Arlen continued to share her story, we were in utter amazement. First, we would never have guessed at all of her family's hardships. They were always so happy, and they never asked for anything. She told us that poverty has made her brave because she must find a way to survive no matter what. She invited us to her home later that afternoon to say the rosary with a group of women from the church. When there, we saw the poor condition of her house. We could see the sky through places in the roof, which leaks into the small living room when it rains. That same living room is the “bedroom” of three of her children who sleep on small mats put down on the cement floor. There is no back door, enabling neighborhood dogs to roam freely in and out. The dining room and kitchen have a floor of rocks, as they are located just under a shelter out the back door, close to the sea. Worst of all, there is no seawall to block the huge waves that sometimes come all the way to the house, making knee deep water to stand in. Arlen and her husband, Nanding, said that the government has been promising to put up a seawall, but they have yet to keep their word.
      Thinking always of their neighbor, they also wanted us to see another house close by which is in even worse condition. There, in the small, dilapidated shelter, which leans for lack of proper support, live a family with eight children and one on the way. At one end of the house, there is no floor at all. About three years ago when waves came up too far, the family lost their 1 year old baby during the night. In the morning she was found washed out by the seashore.
      Such stories are heart-breaking, and we have asked Arlen if we could share her story in hopes of helping her. Odilio and Nanding have estimated the cost of constructing a small, cement seawall to be about $2000 including labor. We have already vowed to cut back our own family's living expenses to be able to contribute. We also want to allow others the opportunity to help as much as possible. If you feel called to donate to these construction funds, please mail donations to Family Missions Company and specify to be used for Philippines Seawall Project.
      When we told the Ocaba family that the process of raising funds would take time, Arlen replied, “We will just pray and leave it to God. If nothing happens, we will survive. We will be happy because we have peace. My husband is a good man. All of my children have a good faith in God.” Truly this family knows the cause of true happiness! Our own lives have been enriched by knowing them, and we can say that they have been our missionaries!

Current "Sea Wall"---washes away almost immediately with a strong storm

Standing at the edge of their property at Low Tide

View just outside of the back door into the living/dining/sleeping area

Back of the house where wood boards are used to "replace" the damaged cinder blocks

Side of the home--wood is very brittle

Back "door"---Plywood to slide over
     “Why should I fear in evil days, when my wicked pursuers ring me round, those who trust in their wealth and boast of their abundant riches? One cannot redeem oneself, pay to God a ransom. Too high the price to redeem a life; one would never have enough to stay alive forever and never see the pit. Anyone can see that the wisest die, the fool and the senseless pass away too, and must leave their wealth to others....For all their riches, if mortals do not have wisdom, they perish like the beasts.” -Psalm 49:6-11 and 21

Family Missions Company
Philippines Sea Wall Project
12624 Everglade
Abbeville, LA 70510