Judgment v. Love

To love one another

To love one another (Photo credit: KatieAnn1111)

In Chicago, the murder rate is rising. In the thirty years that Brothers and Sisters of Love has been facing violence on the streets of Chicago I am amazed at how much Chicago has changed. Then I visit a victim’s home I see how much has stayed the same.
The past few months I have become involved with more murders than I have faced for a long time. With the closing of the public housing developments the murders in Chicago declined drastically, but the problems people face never went away. First, murders began to increase in poor suburbs mostly south and west of the city. Murders also began going in neighborhoods that had been considered safer. Now murders have begun to explode throughout the city.

With the foreclosing of houses throughout poor neighborhoods, the homeless problem that was supposed to have been solved ten years ago has been exacerbated and families are crowding into homes in a way that has not happened since the great depression.

These are common statements made by those examining the problem to homelessness, poverty, and violence:

“Why don’t you just get a job?”

“They just look for a hand-out.”

“Just lock them up and throw away the key.”

How often do we let judgmental statements like this excuse us from ministering to those in need, or turn our ministry away from helping the greatest need? These judgments convince us that the work is hopeless and the poor get what they deserve. They prevent us from hearing the cry for help. They blind us from seeing the humanity in the individual we have been called to serve.

The readings of the Catholic lectionary these past two weeks from Paul’s first Letter to the Corinthians chapters 12 and 13 may be the most important chapters in Scripture. First Paul tells us that we are all part of the Body of Christ. Even the worst gang members have some connection with Christ. If Paul is correct that all Christians are part of the Body of Christ then no part can be denied its proper place.

Paul then begins to describe how the gifts of the Spirit serve the church in its mission and that praying for these gifts provides the tools needed to fulfill the mission of the church. It seems to me that it is the church’s mission to provide the solutions to the violence we now face.

Chapter 13 provides the key as to how this must be done “We can have the faith to move mountains, but if do not have love we are nothing.” (13:2). This is the problem that faces us in our dealing with the poor. We do not love enough and leave the poor to fend for themselves.

A Swedish proverb demands: “Love me when I least deserve it, because that’s when I need it the most.” God is love and loves us; it is not something earned. It is vital to your survival, and without it, there can be no environment for change. For example, an unemployed individual is certainly aware already that he does not have a job. Not a single person is going to answer the question “Why don’t you just go get a job?” with “Oh! Great idea! Why haven’t I thought of that!” That person will reject the question or respond in anger and defense. However, if we ask questions in the spirit of love, we can get to a solution.

Asking the right questions comes from knowing the poor and understanding the obstacles they face. Listening to the stories and trials of individuals with love will get us so much further than repeatedly branding them with failure. Then watching as they make mistakes in trying to get themselves on track will help in finding solutions that move the poor from dependency to independence.

In Mark’s story of the anointing of Jesus at Bethany, Jesus says that the poor you will always have with you, but the response of Judas was to harden his heart and to plot to turn Jesus over to his enemies (Mk: 14: 1-11). From these readings from Paul and Mark, we can say that the Body of Christ will always have the poor among us and we must respond to the poor without hardening our hearts.

The Church instills values that come in conflict with the values of gang members and the poor. These values are important yet the poor will respond in ways that anger us.
A pastor posts a sign that all are welcome in the church, but requires members to remove their piercings, change their clothes, and alter their appearance before they are allowed to sit in the house of the Lord. As a result, gang members who dress as such do not hear the Gospel that Sunday.

A comprehensive plan for after school programs is created but it fails to take into account gang turf lines, claiming that its members need to de-affiliate with their gang and should therefore be able to walk across lines. These young men know people who have been murdered on the streets and face legitimate fears for their lives, so they remain home.

What’s wrong with imposing values, you might ask? The religious leaders at the time of Jesus held important values that led to the crucifixion. Every time that a gang member dies without a loving response from the church it is like Jesus is being crucified again.

Murder rates remain at unacceptable levels. Violence is not contained to bad neighborhoods. Good intentions have not yielded substantial change. Building fences or walls will not save us in the long run. We must put into action our faith in God and love one another more.

–Br. Jim Fogarty, BSL

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About Brothers and Sisters of Love

The Mission of Brothers and Sisters of Love is to be a visible sign of Jesus’ Love, Peace, and Presence to the poor in gang-infested neighborhoods in Chicago and to be a bridge between gangs & the poor with the Church. This is done by: 1. Loving everyone 2. Trusting in God 3. Forgiving everyone everything 4. Never being afraid.
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