Mass at Notre Dame d’Haiti in Montreal

The readings during Mass at Notre Dame echoed two of the themes from my book–keeping the faith in the middle of struggling to survive and being generous even when one is poor. In the first reading, from Kings 17, the prophet Elijah asks a woman for water and then for bread. At first the woman replies that she doesn’t have any bread to give him, but Elijah tells her to go bake something, give some to him, and then he promises her that she’ll have plenty left. She believes the prophet and obeys him, and her family is saved from starvation because of her faith. During his homily, the priest pointed out that often times God asks us to put our faith in him, to give every last thing we have, and then he will come and save us. The woman I am pictured with here was one of many people who told me that God requires them to be generous even when they wonder how they will pay their bills or find their next meal. The sharing of the bread from this Old Testament passage is analogous to the sharing of the Eucharist at communion–this sacrament signifies both a vertical covenant between Christ and his people and a horizontal covenant among the people of God. The Gospel reading was from Mark 12 and recounted the story of the proud Pharisees who made a big show of donating money a large sum of money at the temple, whereas the poor widow humbly gave a few cents, which was all she had left. During his homily, the priest used this Gospel passage to highlight how God asks us to “give what we have”, not to “give what we don’t have” or to “give what we don’t need.” One of the themes of my book was how faith communities turn poor people into givers, not just recipients. These readings and this homily once again emphasized this message: God asks everyone to give, and to give generously, even when they are struggling to survive, not just to give from their abundance. The priest also emphasized the importance of how we give to others. Often times, we give with pride. We want other people to see what we give, or we show disrespect to the person we are giving to. He forcefully stated that when we are in a position to give, we should not show off. Furthermore, he cautioned not to treat the recipients of our generosity like dogs, but rather we should treat all people, not matter how destitute they are, with dignity. Sometimes, he said, it is easy to see God in the beautiful people of this world, but we have to remember that God is in everyone, even those who don’t treat us well or who don’t share our faith. As I argue in my book, even though many Haitian immigrants are very poor, their religious communities provide them with a way to become givers–both materially and spiritually–and seeing oneself as a giver helps them to then be able to receive with dignity the help they may need from others.

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