26th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - C Cycle - 2003-2004
First Reading - Amos 6:1a, 4-7
Psalm - 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Second Reading - 1 Timothy 6:11-16
Gospel - Luke 16:19-31
Luke writes to explain that
Christ came to save everyone.
Jesus said to the Pharisees: "There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man's table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Abraham replied, 'My child, remember that you received what was good during your lifetime while Lazarus likewise received what was bad; but now he is comforted here, whereas you are tormented. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.' He said, 'Then I beg you, father, send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.' But Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen them.' He said, 'Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' Then Abraham said, 'If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.'"
I was born in Washington, DC, I spent the majority of my childhood years growing
up in the suburbs of Manila, in the Philippines. In Manila, there are
stark contrasts between the rich and the poor - the rich are really rich and the
poor are destitute. Third-world poverty is not the same as poverty in this
country. My parish church in Manila was very unique because it was located
exactly between a wealthy subdivision and a slum. So, at Mass, the rich
and poor would sit beside each other, all bound by the same mysteries of the
Catholic faith. We could have gone to Mass at another parish, where only
the rich attended but my parents wanted to make sure that my sister and I came
face-to-face with the social problems of
our country and develop a real
sensitivity to the plight of the poor. I'm sure that attending Mass there
posed health risks - tuberculosis and hepatitis are rampant among those who live
in the slums. But it didn't matter - my parents wanted to remind us that
others weren't so blessed and that we had an obligation to help them. It
was a reminder that every human person has an intrinsic dignity, regardless
of their economic or social status.
This ethic pervades my entire
extended family and I think it's why one of my cousins founded a school for indigent deaf children and why another cousin founded a charitable organization that cares for and educates rural poor children in the outer provinces of the Philippines. Each of us recalls with fondness how all the cousins would get together for a week before Christmas to prepare a variety show to be presented to the rest of our extended family in order to raise money for the Missionaries of Charity and then drove downtown to meet the sisters and feed the orphans they care for. Please don't ask me what I did for the variety show. You'd never take me seriously again. . .
The Gospel is clear on the demands of what we call in theology, "solidarity." In brief, solidarity is the idea that because we are all God's children, we have an obligation to reach out to every person in need. We cannot turn a blind eye to the plight of those who seek and need our assistance, whether it be spiritual, emotional, physical or financial help.
Recall the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The rich man was condemned, not for being rich, but because of his neglect of Lazarus the poor man at his gate. Did his riches blind him to human suffering? Perhaps. More likely, however, is the fact that the Rich Man accepted Lazarus' plight as if it were perfectly natural inevitable - that it was somehow acceptable for Lazarus to suffer while the Rich Man lived in luxury.
At first glance we may thing, "Well, I'm not rich. I don't even have a great income." Perhaps we are not rich according to our own cultural standards. But by the standards of the total global population we are all among the most privileged. We all have all that we need, and more. The point is that if we are not learning to make choices based on an evangelical commitment to living a simple life, (not just because we can't do any better for ourselves at the moment) we are in danger of becoming as blind as the Rich Man in the parable. Money in and of itself is not the problem. How we use our money can be a challenge. Notice that the rich man went to hell not because he did wrong things but rather because he did not do good things. So, we learn that it's possible to commit sins of commission (when we act) and sins of omission (when we don't act but should). The rich man doesn't prevent Lazarus from receiving scraps and crumbs from the table.
The rich man's downfall, then, is the tragedy that he never even noticed the plight of the needy. It's the case of what we don't do that can get us into as much trouble as the things we do. When I was 16, my mother got me to help her to do the groceries one morning by allowing me to drive to the store. After I unloaded the groceries onto the conveyor belt, my mother instructed me to fetch the car. Not thinking, I took the car and drove home. When I got home, the phone rang and my mother asked where I was. Surprised at her question and knowing that she was calling the house, I said, "at home." She asked, "Where am I?" Ooops. Sometimes it's not what we do, it's what we don't do.
We should be keenly aware that because we live in a society that is overly self-indulgent, we have to be prudent. The rich man in the parable dines sumptuously every day while the typical Jew was lucky to eat a piece of meat once a week. God is taking stock of all of these inequities in our world. And just as President Bush warns the country of the need to be ready for a prolonged and arduous struggle in the war against terrorism, we have to be ready for a prolonged and arduous struggle in the war against terrorism, we have to be ready for a prolonged and arduous struggle against the demands of the flesh and the world. We have to confront these lest they enslave us. These inordinate attachments won't die overnight, or this year, or next year. We will not progress in the way of freedom without a commitment to an appropriate daily asceticism in our lives. We have to mortify our appetites, our senses, our curiosity. We have to learn to fast, to deny ourselves, to practice penance so as to become free of this slavery to the senses, to our own comfort and ease. This slavery is what makes us so sluggish to recognize and respond to our brother and sister in their need. It blinds us to the demands of solidarity, and to the duties of justice and charity. The type of fasting and mortification can be a simple as denying ourselves creature comforts, such as ice in our water of ketchup on our fires. Or, it could be more challenging, such as fasting from our opinion or always having to have the last word.
Even back in the days of Amos the prophet, who we hear about in our first reading today, God warns the Jews against complacency and wanton revelry and decadence and every kind of vice that numbs us to the needs of the less fortunate. If we can't assist them financially, then we can all pray for these persons. Thankfully, there are a number of people in this parish who do help the poor in our community in a number of ways, such as the case on Wednesdays and Saturdays when many poor persons come through the doors of our parish hall to pick-up food items. If we don't participate in this program, then perhaps we could volunteer, if but once a month. Teaching children the value of volunteering and volunteering with one's children is one of the most valuable lessons a youngster can learn because it teaches a young person to think outside of themselves. In a culture that champions self-indulgence, volunteering is a wonderful antidote to self-absorption. A friend of mine who is a banking executive and lives in McLean, Virginia, a very wealthy suburb of Washington, enrolls his kids in a volunteer program in inner city Washington each summer, instead of letting them go on lavish vacations. I asked him why he does this and he says, "Sometimes, you've got to take the McLean out of the Mclean."
Finally, at the end of today's parable, we are left with God denying the rich man's request that someone be sent to warn the rich man's brothers who remain on earth so that they may avoid the torments of hell. God sternly rebukes the rich man by reminding him that his brothers have all the tools available to them to be persuaded that caring for the poor and using one's resources wisely is not a guideline or suggestion, but a requirement if one is to enter the kingdom of God. And we must act now, while there is still time - it will be too late to go back and make up for lost time, once we cross over the other side of eternity.
Let us pray, through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to seek out the virtue of solidarity - to reach out in the ways that we can to those who are in most need and to avoid the tragedy of not even noticing the world around us. Like Mary, let us learn to reach out to others, offering the promise and the compassion of the Gospel.
Praised be Jesus Christ. Now and forever!
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