Fr. Roger J. Landry
St. Bernadette Parish, Fall River, MA
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in OT, Year C
September 29, 2013
Amos 6:1.4-7, 1 Tim 6:11-16, Lk 16:19-31
To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click here:
Ignorance and Omissions
Today Jesus presents us with a truly unforgettable Gospel. Who among us is not moved when we hear the story of Lazarus, covered with sores, being licked and molested by dogs, longing to eat just the crumbs from the rich man’s table? Who among us is not moved by the desperation of the rich man after he dies, dying of torment, thirst, worried about his brothers?
What moves us all the more is not simply the state each is in, but the fact that each was avoidable.
In the Parable, the rich man went to Hell not because he was rich, not because he had earned his money in an immoral way, not because he had been asked by Lazarus for help and refused, not because he had sent dogs to lick Lazarus’ wounds or had done anything evil to him at all. He went to Hell because when there was a poor man at his gate he simply did nothing. He was condemned not because of anything he had done, but precisely because of what he hadn’t done: he was so caught up in himself that he didn’t make any effort at all to help out a man who was struggling and dying in his midst. He simply ignored him.
In St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus made clear that when he judges us, he will separate us into two groups on the basis of how we treated the poor and needy in our midst. To those on his right who will be saved, he said he’ll say, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world, for I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, ill or imprisoned and you cared for me.” But to those on his left, he will say, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels, because I was hungry and you gave me no food, thirsty and you gave me no drink, naked and you gave me no clothes, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, ill and in prison and you didn’t care for me.” The condemned will ask, “Lord when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, ill, a stranger or a prisoner and not minister to your needs?” Jesus said he’ll reply, “As often as you failed to do this to the least of my brothers and sisters, you failed to do it to me.” The rich man went to tell because in neglecting the dying poor man at his doorstep, he was neglecting God.
So many Catholics are accustomed to thinking about how God wants us to change simply in terms of bad behavior we know he wants us to cut out. We think about sin just in terms of commissions, the bad thoughts we have, the malicious or mendacious words we say, the wayward deeds we commit. But, as we note at the beginning of each Mass, these are not all the sins we commit. We confess to Almighty God and to each other that we have sinned not just in our thoughts, words, and what we have done, but what we have “failed to do.” Few of us spend much time, however, examining ourselves on derelictions. We omit the omissions, about the acts of love we should have done but didn’t do. We can become like the husband who doesn’t cheat on his wife, doesn’t beat her, doesn’t do any type of evil to her, but who never tells her he loves her, who doesn’t make the time for her, who omits what to her is most important. It’s not enough for us not to do evil, but we also have to do good, to seek to sacrifice ourselves for those who are needy, to look past ourselves, identify their needs, and do what we can to remedy them.
Taking responsibility for others
One of the most powerful parts of the now famous September 19 interview with Pope Francis was when he said the Church is meant to be a field hospital after battle in which each of us is supposed to become a Good Samaritan, taking responsibility for others, crossing the road, inconveniencing ourselves, to bind, nurse and heal the wounds of others. He criticized two groups of people. The first he called the “rigorists,” who merely throw commandments at others without taking the responsibility for helping them struggle to learn to live by the commandments. The other group he called the “laxists,” those who basically say that nothing — including activities totally incompatible with the Gospel — is a sin. They likewise don’t take responsibility for helping others learn how to live in accordance with the merciful love of Christ, which calls us to continual conversion. Both of these people just leave the wounded outside the gates of their hearts to fend for themselves. Both are the opposite of truly loving our neighbor, because to love our neighbor, we must take responsibility for our neighbor, just like the Good Samaritan took responsibility for the man found in the ditch.
I remember very vividly a story I read just over 10 years ago in Montreal that caused a lot of soul searching throughout Canada. I’ve never been able to forget it. A 16-year old girl, after she had been abducted, stripped, sexually assaulted and badly beaten, was dumped out of a van on the sidewalk in the downtown financial district shortly before rush hour. She had no pants on and just a simple shirt. As she lay almost motionless on the sidewalk, people walked around her. Some people stared at her and presumably mumbled to themselves what the world was coming to. Several employees from the offices on the corner noticed her, but they thought she was just a drug addict or prostitute who had had a bad night, so they left her alone. A few secretaries from the office across the street saw her there and asked their boss if they should call the police, but their boss commanded them not to get involved, because they were on work time and he didn’t want them wasting time talking to the police. Countless people passed her on the streets — but no one did anything. Other things, they must have thought, were more pressing, more important. This young girl lay there, on an unseasonably cold spring morning, for about two hours. Finally one of the women in the office complex across the street, at the risk of losing her job, called the police. The paramedics rushed the poor girl to the hospital, where because of all the delay in getting her treatment, she fell into a coma and soon died. For several days afterward, Canadian commentators on television, radio and in the newspapers were asking what the circumstances of her death said about their country and about Canadians. In a country in which almost everyone is Christian at least in name, no one had really stepped up to be a Good Samaritan, no one had proven to be a Christian in fact. And the poor girl died as a result. The question for us is what we do when we see that people are in need of help. Do we take responsibility for them or do we say they’re someone else’s responsibility?
Overcoming the globalization of indifference
We’re now living in an internet age in which we see can see all the tragedies happening throughout the country and the world all at once. We see a news report of Muslim terrorists burning Christian Churches down in Egypt or bombing them in Kenya with Christians worshipping inside and we’re tempted to flip the channel. We read about the Syrian government’s using chemical weapons against its own people such that over 1,000 people, including hundreds of children, are killed, and, while we’re outraged, we say it’s none of our business. We know that 870 million people in the world, one in eight, are chronically malnourished and 200 million children will go to bed tonight hungry, but we say there’s little we can do. We recognize that each year 1.2 million babies in our country alone, made in God’s image and likeness, are killed through abortion, one every 23 seconds, but we turn a deaf ear to their silent screams. The magnitude of the need can sometimes make us just turn inward toward ourselves, mind our own business, and divest ourselves of responsibility.
Pope Francis is trying to wake us up and wake up the whole world to what he calls this “globalization of indifference.” On July 8, he went to the small Italian island called Lampedusa and gave what is, I believe, his most powerful homily since his March election. Lampedusa is the Ellis Island for so many Africans freeing persecution and poverty. As I mentioned back in July, these immigrants are often at the mercy of basically pirates who charge them a fortune (sometimes up to $40,000) to pack them as sardines on boats that wouldn’t pass inspection here in our country for a perilous 16 hour journey on a rough stretch of sea. Many of these immigrants die on the journey and others, if they arrive safely, are often treated even with greater hostility than some of our fellow citizens shamefully treat those who have entered our country illegally. Even though 20,000 people have died on that journey over the last 25 years, Lampedusa just never made the international radar. Francis’ journey changed that. His words are a poignant commentary on today’s Gospel.
“Today the question has to be asked: Who is responsible for the blood of these brothers and sisters of ours? Nobody! That is our answer: It isn’t me; I don’t have anything to do with it; it must be someone else, but certainly not me. Yet God is asking each of us: ‘Where is the blood of your brother which cries out to me?’ Today no one in our world feels responsible; we have lost a sense of responsibility for our brothers and sisters. We have fallen into the hypocrisy of the priest and the levite whom Jesus described in the parable of the Good Samaritan: we see our brother half dead on the side of the road, and perhaps we say to ourselves: ‘poor soul…!,’ and then go on our way. It’s not our responsibility, and with that we feel reassured, assuaged. The culture of comfort, which makes us think only of ourselves, makes us insensitive to the cries of other people, makes us live in soap bubbles which, however lovely, are insubstantial; they offer a fleeting and empty illusion which results in indifference to others; indeed, it even leads to the globalization of indifference. In this globalized world, we have fallen into globalized indifference. We have become used to the suffering of others: it doesn’t affect me; it doesn’t concern me; it’s none of my business!”
He then went on to ask, “Has any one of us wept because of this situation and others like it? Has any one of us grieved for the death of these brothers and sisters? Has any one of us wept for these persons who were on the boat? For the young mothers carrying their babies? For these men who were looking for a means of supporting their families? We are a society that has forgotten how to weep, how to experience compassion – “suffering with” others: the globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep! … Let us ask the Lord for the grace to weep over our indifference, to weep over the cruelty of our world, of our own hearts.”
The roots of this indifference and the response to it
Where does this indifference come from? How can so many in the world, including so many Christians, get to the point where they chronically fail to be Good Samaritans, where their hearts are no longer touched by the misfortune of others, where, even if they fail to do something, they fail even to weep over others’ misfortune when they notice it? Pope Francis spoke about it this morning in St. Peter’s Square in an International Gathering for Catechists during the Year of Faith. He began with Amos’ words from today’s first reading, “Woe to the complacent in Zion, those who feel secure … lying upon beds of ivory!,” and said:
“These are harsh words that the prophet Amos speaks, yet they warn us about a danger that all of us face. … The danger of complacency, comfort, worldliness in our lifestyles and in our hearts, of making our well-being the most important thing in our lives. This was the case of the rich man in the Gospel, who dressed in fine garments and daily indulged in sumptuous banquets; this was what was important for him. And the poor man at his doorstep who had nothing to relieve his hunger? That was none of his business, it didn’t concern him. Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the center of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings. The rich man in the Gospel has no name, he is simply ‘a rich man.’ Material things, his possessions, are his face; he has nothing else.”
“How does something like this happen? How do some people, perhaps ourselves included, end up becoming self-absorbed and finding security in material things that ultimately rob us of our face, our human face? This is what happens when we no longer remember God. If we don’t think about God, everything ends up being about “me” and my own comfort. Life, the world, other people, all of these become unreal, they no longer matter, everything boils down to one thing: having. When we no longer remember God, we, too, become unreal, we, too, become empty; like the rich man in the Gospel, we no longer have a face!”
The solution to this complacency is not just doing “something” for the poor but remembering God, and in God rediscovering who we really are and who others are. This is why education in the faith is so important. Today we begin our catechetical year for our young children in grades 1-10. On Wednesday we’re going to begin another catechetical season for Catholics ages 5-100, with a new Bible Study. Both of these are so important for us in order to remember God, not to omit him from our life, so that we can live with him and with his vision. Pope Francis said this morning, “Who are catechists? They are people who keep the memory of God alive; they keep it alive in themselves and they are able to revive it in others.” That’s why religious education is so important. And all of us, priests, CCD teachers, parents, and Catholics are called to be catechists in this way, those who, remembering God, prioritizing God, loving God and living in his love, help others to remember him, so that they may see him in the poor, the sick, the lonely, the depressed, the imprisoned, the needy.
The Lord in today’s Gospel wants us to overcome our apathy toward others, our indifference, our neglect, our lack of responsibility and love. He is never indifferent to us, he never forgets us, but left heaven to come down to save each one of us lost sheep because each of us is infinitely valuable to him. He wants to help us to learn how to love others in this same way. But for this to occur, we’ve got to be willing to receive his grace to overcome our self-centeredness, to put others’ needs ahead of our own, to sacrifice for them, to take responsibility. Our prayer needs to change as we remember God and remember others and seek to pray more for those in need. How we spend our money needs to change, as we remember that everything we have is a divine depository placed in our hands and start, as good stewards, to give more away for the needs of others needs than we spend on our wants. The way we celebrate the Mass needs to change, as we begin to pay attention much more to those who are needy in our own community, and as we receive Jesus’ body and blood learn how to make sacrifices of our own lives for others.
Listening to the Law, Prophets, and the Risen Jesus
At the very end of the Gospel today, the Rich Man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to warn them that they need to be charitable, to overcome their indifference to the plight of those in need, lest they join him in the place of flames. Abraham replied that his brothers have Moses and the Prophets, all of whom have testified to the fact that the Lord expects us to care for the sick, hungry, naked, oppressed, imprisoned, the blind, the strangers, the widowed and all those in need. The Rich Man said that that wouldn’t be enough, because just like they were ignoring the poor, they were ignoring Moses and the Prophets. They were, in short, ignoring God. “But if someone from the dead goes to them,” the Rich Man said, “then they will repent.” But Abraham said that if they were deaf to the Law and the Prophets, if they were deaf to God, then they would be unmoved even by the appeals of someone risen from the dead.
Well, today, while the five brothers in the Parable did not receive the grace of someone’s rising from the dead to call them to care for others, each of us has received that favor. Not only do we have Moses and the Prophets speak to us about charity, but Jesus, risen from the dead, has come today to give us this Parable live in the Gospel. His earthly vicar, Pope Francis, has reinforced this urgent appeal by giving it a very concrete application. So let us act on these words. God who calls us to be remember him and to love others as Good Samaritans will give us all the help he knows we need, but we need to respond to that grace to put God and others ahead of ourselves. Let us embrace that assistance, begin to notice those in need, to love them, to heal the wounds, to cross the street and to take responsibility for them. This is the path that, when it comes time for our judgment, will enable Jesus to wave each of us to his right for having cared for him in the person of others, so that we may take our seat with all those eating not just scraps from the Master’s Table but sharing in the sumptuous eternal wedding banquet for which the Mass is a foretaste.
The readings for today’s Mass were:
AM 6:1A, 4-7
Woe to the complacent in Zion!
Lying upon beds of ivory,
stretched comfortably on their couches,
they eat lambs taken from the flock,
and calves from the stall!
Improvising to the music of the harp,
like David, they devise their own accompaniment.
They drink wine from bowls
and anoint themselves with the best oils;
yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!
Therefore, now they shall be the first to go into exile,
and their wanton revelry shall be done away with.
PS 146:7, 8-9, 9-10
Blessed he who keeps faith forever,
secures justice for the oppressed,
gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets captives free.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
The LORD gives sight to the blind.
The LORD raises up those who were bowed down;
the LORD loves the just.
The LORD protects strangers.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
The fatherless and the widow he sustains,
but the way of the wicked he thwarts.
The LORD shall reign forever;
your God, O Zion, through all generations. Alleluia.
R. Praise the Lord, my soul!
1 TM 6:11-16
But you, man of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith. Lay hold of eternal life, to which you were called when you made the noble confession in the presence of many witnesses. I charge you before God, who gives life to all things, and before Christ Jesus, who gave testimony under Pontius Pilate for the noble confession, to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ that the blessed and only ruler will make manifest at the proper time, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, and whom no human being has seen or can see. To him be honor and eternal power. Amen.
“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.’
‘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 to 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.'”