When I was growing up my brothers and I frequently heard admonitions to be ‘courteous to others’ which meant, for my brothers, lessons on how to be a “gentleman.” My mother frequently reminded my brothers to stand when a woman entered or left a room, to take off their hats indoors, give up their seats on a bus to the elderly, infirm, and women – especially women with children or grocery bags. “Gentlemen” opened doors for women, the elderly and the handicapped, and walked on the street side of the sidewalk in case a car drove by and splashed water/mud across the sidewalk. It was important when I was growing up for a man to be a ‘gentleman’ with polite manners. A gentleman was someone others could respect and admire.
The behavior of a gentleman to a lady, to the most vulnerable, was part of the code of chivalry, largely based upon Christian Scripture and Christian tradition.
Roman Catholics are taught the corporal and spiritual works of mercy based upon Jesus words and the letters of James. Protestant believe Catholics are ‘buying their way into haven’ by doing good deeds for others. But here are Jesus’ own words:
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.” 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Caring for the welfare of others is part of the Catholic tradition, the basis for Catholic Social Services (hospitals, schools, orphanages, food services, etc.). It is not ‘buying our way into heaven’, it is doing what Jesus told us to do. Each of the examples used by Christ are just examples. Think of His concern for widows and orphans, people left destitute because there was no male member of the family to provide for them. Think of His concern for the infirm and physically handicapped. He cured them. Think about what He did for others. He truly cared for people. He asked us to do the same.
We can’t all be Mother Theresa of Calcutta. Her devotion to Jesus was extreme. We are not called to this extent, but we are called to be more observing of the needs of others and to try to help as best we can.
The physically handicapped may be obvious by using a cane, crutches, walker or wheelchair. Less obvious are those with heart disease or Multiple Sclerosis. They want to be as independent as possible for as long as they can, so they go to church, the grocery store and shop.
In the United States and Canada, there is some concern for the handicapped. Ramps to buildings, elevators and escalators are installed because many cannot climb stairs. There are designated parking spaces for the physically handicapped near to their destination. If these spaces are full they may not be able to go to church, attend school/classes, or shop. Cars and trucks that do not have a handicap tag in some form can be ticketed if they park in those spaces.
Some people have these tags for spouses, some have them for themselves. Some never return the tags when the relative for whom it was given has died. They use the tags for themselves because the handicapped parking spaces are more ‘convenient’ and they don’t have to walk as far. Thus, they deprive a valid handicapped person from this parking space. In their self-centered way, they are uncaring of those who need the parking space. What do we say when we stand at the throne of God and are asked about this little sin of selfishness.
[As an aside – I am constantly amazed to see the huge out-sized pickup trucks, with handicapped designations, parked in handicapped designated spaces. I always wonder just how a physically handicapped person can possibly climb into the cab of the truck.]
Many public businesses offer toilet facilities for their patrons and generally designate one toilet for the physically disabled. The space is larger to give room for walkers and wheelchairs and will have at least one leverage bar. (Two bars are better for some handicapped. But when a parish secretary explains that the law only requires one bar, does this mean the government has more concern for the handicapped than the Catholic church?) to help those who have difficulty getting up from the toilet. (I have noticed that many handicapped toilets are low enough for 3-year-olds but too low for the elderly with bad knees.) When a physically able person uses those toilet facilities, they make a handicapped person wait till the toilet is free. Again, this is thoughtlessness. I doubt Jesus would approve.
Some Christian churches are showing concern for the physically handicapped by placing arm chairs at the back of the church for their use. Many cannot get in and out of pews with wheelchairs or walkers. Others have difficulty with the kneelers. Once again, there are people who find these chairs more comfortable and convenient and sit in them without regard for the handicapped who need them. Despite the fact that there is plenty of room in the pews, they choose to sit in the handicapped seating area. I wonder what Jesus would have to say about them. “Whatever you do to the least of my children, you do to me.”
We are asked, in the secular world, to be more considerate of the physically handicapped. How much more important is it to be considerate of the physically handicapped as Christians?
Is the belief in chivalry dead? Is the idea of ‘being a gentleman’ no longer important?
I have always held Catholics to a higher standard of behavior simply because they have been taught from infancy the story of the Good Samaritan. This was the Catholic guide on how to treat other people. I have been disappointed in my fellow Catholics who are so self-absorbed, they do not see the needs of others.
Who am I to judge? It makes me sad to see the lack of chivalry, the lack of concern for the elderly, the handicapped, the vulnerable. I am even more sad when it happens in Church when, ostensibly, we are all gathered together to praise God and listen to His words. And I am the most sad when we don’t believe the teachings apply to us.