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Thursday, October 6, 2011

Asking for Help

“Ask and you will receive; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Lk 11:9)

Being unafraid to ask others for help is an important lesson in humility, and a sure sign that we have not become so arrogant that we live as if we don’t need others. Nevertheless, it is difficult for most people in individualistic societies like the United States to ask for help, and those who do are often looked down upon. Homeless street people may be shown pity and helped, but they are seldom respected as human beings, and it is the rare person who engages them in conversation about their lives.

I am not naïve or idealistic about all of this. For many years, I worked with and came to love Boston’s street people who found their way to the Shattuck hospital. Some of them were so full of fear that they could not say a word to you in greeting. Others were unable to stop talking. Most of the time and with most of the residents at the Shattuck, I had a passing relationship. They came to expect me to lead them in worship on Sunday mornings and were happy to be a part of a praying community. After mass we would mingle for a while, exchange pleasantries and grow in trust. Eventually, some would gain enough confidence to ask for the sacrament of reconciliation, but they were the exception.

Nevertheless, all of them seemed to understand me and be grateful when I would insist that there were no prostitutes at the Shattuck. There were women and men who had prostituted themselves, but they were people with real identities and names. The same was true of those who were addicted to drugs and alcohol. They were not alcoholics and drug addicts. They were people with raging addictions. It was important for the patients at the Shattuck to hear this, more than once. Most of them had been through two or three recovery programs and were giving up on themselves. As soon as they began to think of themselves as drug addicts rather than persons, they were on their way back to the streets without hope and looking for a fix.

The same is true for all of us. Being needy is a not a fault or a sin. It is the human condition, and St Paul reminds us often to remember that we are the body of Christ. In Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians and Ephesians, he returns to the image of the body of Christ, and insists that a body is made up of many parts, all of which have dignity. Further, when a part of our body is under stress it is natural for the rest of the body to come to its aid. An injury or infection is not perceived by the body as sinful, but sick, and as Jesus reminds us, it is the sick that need a physician.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help today. Allowing someone else to help you may be the grace they need to free themselves from self absorption and sin.

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