Saturday, September 29, 2007

Don't forget the poor (Sunday homily)

We might wonder what, exactly,
sent the Rich Man to hell.

The Parable gives us hints:
It wasn’t that the Rich Man didn’t do enough;
but rather—he didn’t do anything:

He didn’t even give scraps from the floor…
He provided no comfort to a sick man—
who had only dogs to show him mercy…
And he didn’t even bother
to bury Lazarus after his death.

Yet, when he saw Lazarus, in the Bosom of Abraham,
he recognized him! So it wasn’t that he didn’t know.

Three years ago, Charles Chaput,
the Archbishop of Denver,
gave a homily on these readings.
He said the following that gets it right:
“If we ignore the poor we are going to go to hell.”

We are all poor in God’s eyes.
Yet Christ, the Richest one of all, left Heaven,
and came to the gate where poor humanity lay dying.
We had all been shut out by Adam’s sin,
but Christ did not leave us to die outside the gate.

Rather, he went to die, outside the gate!
He became poor, for us; to make us rich!

Many of us are rich in material things,
at least by comparison to the rest of the world;
but we are all rich, rich as rich can be,
in the gold of eternity, God’s forgiveness,
the life of the Holy Spirit.
We are rich in Christ.

We know people who are poor in spiritual things—
they don’t know the Lord,
they are on a path of destruction.
But that’s their problem, not ours.

Yet if we forget the poor, we are going to go to hell.

And there are poor in material things—
whether at the “gate” of our nation,
the richest on earth;
or people in Piqua who need help.

This is what our St. Vincent de Paul Society does;
this is what Catholic Social Services does—
remember that, when someone complains
about sending money to that fund.

But we have a duty not only to charity,
but also to pursue social justice:
charity means direct help to those in need;
social justice means action
to change the structure of society.

If we have a good education,
what are we doing to ensure others get one?

If we have a job, what are we doing
to insist our business and political leaders
make jobs and development
a priority for our local community?

What is the governor doing?
The state legislature? City commission.

Better: what are we doing to get them to act?

The Rich Man couldn’t do it all. He didn’t have to.
He just had to do what he could.
His eternal mistake was he didn’t even do that.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Another stunning homily, Father! You consistently show your excellent perspective and at the same time give practical and useful applications which people in a variety of life situations can
carry out.

Could I add a different category of poverty that I never hear mentioned anywhere? It is the poor in spirit who live right among us in parish families.

Among the hundreds of reasons for this poverty, I notice the extreme elderly seldom receive a direct smile or greeting from their fellow parishioners. Perhaps younger people think the elderly look drab or unfriendly because their facial expression seems cheerless. This is likely due to aging and sagging - or perhaps the older person is in pain, or having trouble hearing or seeing. Why not give them the benefit of the doubt and greet them warmly anyway?

I know of many who are very ill, who heroically conceal their suffering trying to appear "normal", but who are passed over because they aren't in the mainstream - they don't show up for parish events, they don't have an interesting career anymore, and they can't contribute much money due to high medical expense. But they still have worth as children of God. Having been around many chronically ill people in my life, I know for a fact that these people suffer both from their illness and from an unintended social neglect as well.

What about the bereaved? When a person loses a spouse, child, or parent, the grieving goes on a long time, but various people have told me the caring ends when the funeral luncheon is over. They say that other church members do not refer to the loss again, and do not respond well if the grieving individual shows sadness or mentions the loss. The bereaved have to conceal their mourning, which makes them feel isolated and lonely.

Although most parishes don't have ex-convict members (or maybe they do and I just don't know about them), it strikes me that prisoners and ex-convicts would be among the poorest in spirit, yet no one ever seems to give them a thought. Do we as Catholics involve ourselves in prison ministry very often? I've almost never heard it mentioned. Yet simple things like providing a spiritual booklet with a handwritten card, "Thinking of you," could help some errant prisoner turn his or her life in the right direction. Even a pen-pal correspondence might be the
inspiration that changes a prisoner's life forever.

Most parishes have members who are simply shy and do not know if anyone wants to speak to them, so they hang their heads and sit in the back pews. They seem withddrawn or anti-social, but many are really painfully shy.

There are many church members who are handicapped mentally or physically. I often see other parishioners look straight through them on Sunday morning, as though the problem is contagious.
Why not single them out for an enthusiastic greeting?

We hear so much about whole countries that are starving, suffering from wars, about people with AIDS, orphaned infants, victims of political oppression. These are all urgent and serious concerns; they merit our prayers and practical action. But it should not be our sole focus when we think about caring for others in a Christian way - additionally, let us look around at the folks in the pew beside us. It's surprising how many of those also need what we can so readily provide.