Recently, a woman in a diocesan ministry told me about traveling to Shanghai with her father when she was fifteen years old. She remembers waiting outside a market stall while her father conducted business. Suddenly, she felt a tug on her skirt and looked down to see an elderly woman begging. The woman, who suffered quite visibly from leprosy, was missing some of her fingers and even her nose. Terrified, the teenage girl ran. She did not mention the incident to her father or anyone else for many years. Now in middle age, she told me that she has spent the rest of her life asking, "What is my responsibility to people like that woman?"
Having recently returned from Haiti, I find myself asking the same question. While there, I was overwhelmed not only by the poverty that people suffer, but also the strength and faith with which they face it. It was a true blessing to experience. Still, like many of you, I know that I am not called to live in Haiti, or Guatemala, or any other place that may capture my heart. What I must grapple with, then, is how I live out my responsibility to people that I can so easily ignore. How do I return home without leaving them behind?
As we look forward to Thanksgiving, and later Advent and Christmas, I hope that this question is on the forefront of all of our minds. Most of us discover in some way the joy of generosity and community during the holiday season, but this joy can be found year-round and in many places that we may not expect. God made us all missionaries, whether or not we ever set foot outside of our own cities and towns. This season of giving may be the best time to remind ourselves what a great gift that God has given us in mission!