Evangelized by the Poor: Known by Name

I (finally) watched Hamilton this past week for the first time. I must say that it lived up to the hype that I’d heard around it for years. In the concluding song of the musical, the writers provide some of the motivation behind making such a production — they name that Alexander Hamilton was one of the most significant founding fathers of our country, and yet in the modern day, his story hasn’t been told. One motivating reason behind producing the musical was to draw forth Hamilton’s story and allow it to speak to and inspire a new generation today.

While I was living and working in Bangladesh, I encountered some truly amazing stories, some of which I’ve had the chance to share through this blog. I met people who had spent a lifetime giving themselves in service to the work of defending human rights for indigenous peoples. I met people who spent decades caring for elderly and dying religious. I met people who went to heroic extents to provide for their families and offer their children an opportunity for a brighter future. I met many people who lived saintly lives. And most likely, most of these people will go unnamed beyond their immediate circle of influence.

Stories won’t be written to record what they’ve done or accomplished. Musicals won’t be written to remind future generations of the contributions they made. A new generation will not hear their story and will miss out on the chance to be inspired by them.

But we wear the clothing they made. We drink the tea they cultivated. We eat the shrimp they farmed. 

For as much as our lives in America are shaped in large part thanks to the things Hamilton spend his lifetime fighting for, they are equally as touched by the lives of those on the other side of the world who are the source of our food, goods, and labor and yet remain unnamed.

Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez, O.P., famously said, “So you say you love the poor? Name them.” How can we love someone we do not know personally? It is easy to love an abstract idea but harder to love people in reality. Do we know their names? Do we know their stories?

Fr. Gutierrez’ quotation has served as a stark reminder to me from time to time. Now that I am living in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, how well can I name the poor who live on our streets? I’m afraid I can only name a few. While in Bangladesh, I had the great blessing of knowing the poor by name. But it took intentional effort, just as it takes intentional effort in America.

Who will be the one to get to know the stories of our neighbors, especially the ones whose lives seem destined to be remembered only as a number in the history books? I pray that we respond as Isaiah did: “Here am I; send me.” (Is 6:8)

Published on January 16, 2024

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