A few weeks ago, some co-workers and I took part in our community's Point-in-Time count, when hundreds of volunteers are sent out in the middle of the night to identify persons who are homeless and living on the streets. It's not the most gratifying of assignments, in that you don't do anything to help; you are simply assessing community needs. In fact, we were advised to be as inconspicuous as possible, because we were visiting the "homes" of those who are homeless: their cars, their tents, their bridges and parks. Our job was to observe, to respect the sacred spaces where people were sleeping, and to come back to tell the story of the poverty and suffering that we witnessed.
Our first reading today reminds us of the sacredness of the work we were undertaking. In the narrative, an urgent problem has come to God's attention: "I have witnessed the affliction of my people...I know well what they are suffering...I have come to rescue them" (Ex. 3:7). God is "kind and merciful" (Ps. 103:8) and thus cannot remain silent when God witnesses suffering. The whole encounter with Moses takes place on "holy ground" (Ex. 3:5), which in the Bible is any place where God chooses to reveal God's self. And God almost always appears wherever people are in pain, suffering, and being treated unjustly (Ps. 103:6).
Toward the end of the night of the Point-in-Time count, I found myself in a Walmart parking lot where six or seven cars were parked; the windows were fogged in each car, indicating someone was sleeping, or trying to sleep, inside. A group of tents were set-up under a bridge nearby for those who did not even have a car to sleep in. It may not have appeared so to passersby and late-night shoppers, but I realize now that the Walmart parking lot was holy ground too. God was there, hearing the cries of suffering, and calling those of us witnessing the affliction, to be a voice for those who were suffering, just as God did for Moses. Indeed, it seems that much of our work at Catholic Charities takes place on holy ground: the sacred space of counseling offices, soup kitchens, food giveaways, and crisis pregnancy centers, where God uses us, like Moses, to come to the aid of his suffering people.
Collen Mayer is the Director of Social Services at Catholic Charities of Tennessee and serves on the CCUSA Parish Social Ministry Steering Committee and the JustFaith Ministries Board of Directors.
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