Father Eugene Hemrick

Are you distressed over the recent behavior of the U.S. Congress? You aren’t alone. As a resident of Washington D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, I daily encounter staffers to the Senate, Capitol Hill and the U.S. Supreme Court.

I see the reactions of police officers, maintenance personnel and others working in the area. Reactions range from disgust and anger, to distrustfulness and having lost all respect. I also encounter loyalists who couldn’t care less about the criticism or damage their party is causing. They feel they are right and that is it.

Disappointment over poor leadership is nothing new. In the Gospels, Christ continuously voices his distress over Israel’s leaders, such as in Luke 11:42-46: “Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others.”

And he continues: “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”

Christ does not stop with his woes but offers a way of overcoming them. After berating the Pharisees who are overly concerned with purification rites, he implores them to give alms.

What, we must ask, does alms giving have to do with changing the behaviors of religious leaders and, for that matter, government leaders?

The word “alms” in Latin connotes mercy and possessing an open, loving heart. To truly give alms, we must open our hearts to others, feel their pain and walk with them. It requires sympathy at its highest level. It also implies having a deep sense of justice in that we desire that a destitute person equally enjoy the life God desires for us. It should be added that in caring for another, our hearts expand. We need these big hearts to overcome our complex problems.

It is no exaggeration to say we live in a new age of increasing woes. The violence we are experiencing around the globe is astronomical. Our ecology is encountering woes like never before, and financial woes are strangling countries around us. If we aren’t careful, the unending list of woes can take the very heart out of us. It can drive some to commit atrocities.

One of the best definitions of grace says that grace is the release of loveliness. If we are to be graced as a nation, we need to be more gracious and embrace the spirit and practice of alms giving in all its dimensions.