THE problem of homelessness is out of control. It is getting worse every week and no-one appears to be doing anything about it.
The problem is most acute in Dublin, where official figures show that six additional people are becoming homeless every day, while only two each day succeed in acquiring full-time accommodation. More and more people who seek a bed for the night are told that there is nothing for them.
“A way has to be found to enable everyone to benefit from the fruits of the earth, and not simply to close the gap between the affluent and those who must be satisfied with the crumbs falling from the table, but above all, to satisfy the demands of justice, fairness and respect for every human being,” – Pope Francis.
This week, once again, I have been overwhelmed by the generosity of so many people who have contributed to the “food appeal” in Portlaoise – food that will support families this Christmas in a real way.
I’m sure we were all extremely upset to learn about the plight of a homeless man who died on the streets of Dublin. Homelessness is a national crisis and needs to be addressed. Homeless groups have warned of grave risks facing rough sleepers following the death of a homeless man a short distance from Leinster House in Dublin. More than 160 people are sleeping rough on the streets of the capital on a nightly basis, according to official figures compiled last month.
“The times talk to us of so much poverty in the world and this is a scandal. Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.” (Pope Francis, meeting with students from a school in Rome last week).
Poverty continues to affect so many this Christmas. At a time when we are encouraged to share “goodwill”, the following story offers inspiration. Poinsettia, a poor Mexican girl, had no gift to present to the baby Jesus in his crib, as was customary on Christmas Eve. As Poinsettia walked slowly to the chapel with her friends and family, her heart was full of sadness. An angel appeared to the little girl and spoke to her: “I am sure that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in his eyes.” Not knowing what to do, the little girl knelt at the roadside and gathered a handful of common weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet.
Looking at these insignificant weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of her offering. Poinsettia fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel. As she approached the crib, she remembered the angel’s words. She felt her spirit lifting as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the feet of the nativity scene. Suddenly, the bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant crimson red. And all who saw them were certain that they had seen a miracle right before their eyes. From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Buena (Flower of the Holy Night) – known by all of us for its Christmas colour, called the Poinsettia.
This is a powerful story of Christian hope in a time of darkness and uncertainty. And yet, even where one can be overwhelmed by the overgrowing destructive weeds, regarding so many structures in our society, the Poinsettia offers hope. This is a time of cleansing; a time for renewal; a time for change. That Jesus was born in great poverty to a family on the margins is our source of new life, renewal, hope and confidence. Jesus feels, no doubt, the immense pain and suffering that is felt in the hearts of so many good people at this time. He dwells in our hearts that may be disillusioned.
The gift of Christmas is to indulge in a bright light that is so much brighter than any darkness. There is no recession when it comes to the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. There are no cutbacks in the unconditional love Jesus has for us all. The new life of Jesus Christ is not something that just once happened, but a promise that needs to be realised in all our lives.
This is the time. It is the weeds of hurt and brokenness, disillusionment and anger that we place at the foot of our Savior this Christmas. His presence will transform and allow us to begin again.