This week a friend was telling me a story of when she was growing up. She saw a little bird who had fallen out of its nest. She spent 5 days bringing it a little bottle cap full of water. She said when she came back on the 6th day, the bird was gone! She was so happy that her little feathered friend had finally gotten its strength back and flown away. Then her dad ruined her moment saying, “He was probably eaten by a cat.”
I laughed out loud at her dad’s bluntness in the story, crushing a little girl’s dreams. But then I started thinking about that little bird that fell out of its nest. Why didn’t its family help him? It made me think of the line I was told in my youth, “Never help a baby bird. If you touch them, their family won’t take them back.” This got me thinking. Is this true? If so, why? Do human hands smell that bad or something?
It turns out, it’s not true. I’ve been lied to again! There are so many things we believe just because someone told us, but this myth was probably told to us for good reason. Even though our scent won’t mess things up, our interference might. It is almost never a good idea to disturb wildlife. Usually if you find a baby bird by itself, the parents are close by, waiting for you to leave the area. Also, the biggest threat to handling a baby bird is probably to you. Touching wildlife can often lead to the transmission of diseases. I love this graphic from the National Park Service about how it is all around best to just keep your distance from ALL animals!
Something I learned from asking this question is that part of the reason the myth isn’t true is because most birds have a terrible sense of smell! I just assumed all wildlife have a good sense of smell and use it for hunting. It turns out that other than a handful of birds like turkey vultures, most have almost no sense of smell. Instead, they use their amazing sense of sight. This helps them to see their prey from far away. They didn’t come up with the phrase “eyes like a hawk” for nothing.
This new information got me thinking, if my original thought was incorrect, why was it so easy to believe it was true? It makes sense to us that a bird wouldn’t recognize its kin if it smelled differently because we act similarly all the time. We see others who look or act different and no longer see them as brothers and sisters in Christ. We no longer care for them. This made me think of two more of the corporal works of mercy, “Clothe the naked” and “Shelter the travelers”.
I think part of why these two works of mercy seem so difficult to us is because we see the homeless, immigrant, or refugee as other. Just like how I thought the mama bird would act with her baby, we no longer see this person as a part of our family, so why would we help them? All peoples from everywhere on the globe, from every walk of life, no matter what choices or circumstances got them to where they are right now ARE OUR FAMILY, and we should help them!
This past Sunday in the gospel we heard of John the Baptist being the lone voice in the desert. He walked around preaching the coming of Christ. We will then hear in this coming Sunday’s gospel that when people heard this, they asked him what they must do in preparation. John’s response was, “Whoever has two cloaks should share with the person who has none.”
Each of us has been given so much in this life. Every single bit of it is a gift from God. It is selfish of us to not then share it. It was never ours to begin with. Especially in this season of GIVING, we spend so much time focused on the material things and how much we can amass for our family. Does your family not already have clothes? Toys? Everything they need? I’m not telling you to return all of your Christmas gifts, but I encourage you to spend even half as much time and energy thinking of how you can give to those who really need it as you do on you and yours.
I talked in a previous blog about the usual giving of food or drink; this is different. People need more than this, they need clothes, they need toiletries, they need somewhere to live. If you are able to literally welcome homeless, immigrants, and/or refugees into your home, great! Most of us can’t do that. So how can the rest of us help? We can look to the example of Servant of God Dorothy Day.
Dorothy Day started the Catholic Worker Movement, a pacifist movement that gives direct aid to the poor and homeless but also works for nonviolent direct action on their behalf. Since its establishment in the 1930s, the movement has spread, and you can now find 160 of these communities around the U.S. and 27 more in countries around the world. These communities serve those in their area day in and day out, truly living out these two corporal works of mercy.
I’ve mentioned on social media one here in Houston called Casa Juan Diego. This community provides shelter around the city, some specifically for women and children, one for immigrant men, two for the sick or wounded. They also give assistance to ill immigrants or refugees. They provide free medical care for immigrants and refugees along with food for 500 individuals each week. Casa Juan Diego is truly answering Jesus’ call to clothe the naked and shelter the travelers.
Now it is up to each of us to join them in this service. To find the closest Catholic Worker community near you, visit this website: https://www.catholicworker.org/communities/directory-picker.html These locations can use donations of money, food, clothing, etc, but most of them also need volunteers. They can often use help from anyone of any age or skill set. One youth group I helped with was able to help work in Casa Juan Diego’s vegetable garden. They had a blast, and they helped the community continue to feed hundreds each week. Reach out to your local community to see what they could use most. We can’t ignore the needs of others simply because they look different than us or come from far away. These people need our help, and we must step up. To end I’ll leave you with a beautiful image I found recently titled “Dorothy Day and the Holy Family of the Streets”. It’s a wonderful reminder to open our homes and our hearts to all those around us. (Image by kellylatimoreicons.com)