Fr. Paul's Homily
I enjoy the comic, Garfield the Cat. There is often a reverse wisdom in Garfield’s actions…we should do the opposite of Garfield!! One cold winter night Garfield looks out the window and sees Odie the Dog peering through the window. Garfield thinks to himself: This is horrible. Here I am in the comfort of a warm house, well fed, and there is Odie outside begging to get in, cold and hungry. I can’t stand it anymore. I just can’t stand it. So at that he goes over to the window…and closes the curtains. Too much truth in this!!
Some years ago before the death of Mother Theresa, a television special depicted the grim human conditions that were a part of her daily life. It showed all the horror of the slums of Calcutta and her love for these destitute people. The producer interviewed her as she made her rounds in that dreadful place. Throughout the program, commercials interrupted the flow of the discussion. Here is the sequence of the topics and commercials: lepers (bikinis for sale); mass starvation (designer jeans); agonizing poverty (fur coats); abandoned babies (ice cream sundaes) the dying (diamond watches).
The irony was so apparent. Two different worlds were on display--the world of the poor and the world of the affluent. Which one do we listen to? This story that Jesus tells in the Gospel today is uncomfortable to hear and to really reflect upon. It was this story that convinced Dr. Albert Schweitzer to leave the comfort of his academy career in Vienna, Austria and go to the dark jungles of Africa to serve. This story of the rich man and Lazarus could change us…thus, it is dangerous!! But let’s explore it along with our reading from Amos.
“Woe to the complacent in Zion!” This is how the reading from Amos begins. He then talks about their extreme wealth and luxurious living: couches made from imported ivory; food from only the finest lambs and cows; wine drunk from bowls and expensive oil to smell good. It is the picture of the “Rich and Famous” of the 8th century B.C. It goes well with the picture of the rich man in the Gospel who wears purple clothing and fine linen, eating like a king every day. Remember, in those days purple was the most expensive dye and therefore, only the richest people wore the color purple.
This is a picture of wealth in the extreme. This is similar to a recent article in the Chicago Sun newspaper about a new Rolls Royce car that starts at $340,000!! Only the best!!
The prophetic challenge that Amos gives is that in their wealth they have become complacent to the needs of the people around them. They didn’t care about the suffering people around them. They live in their ivory palaces, insulated from the suffering or just choosing not to see it. As in the gospel, the rich man saw Lazarus everyday but probably just ignored his suffering. He was complacent. If you look up the definition of ‘complacent’ you will see “To be pleased, especially with oneself or one's merits, advantages, situation, etc., often without awareness of some potential danger or defect; self-satisfied.” So when we are complacent, we are very satisfied with ourselves, not willing to admit any defect or need.
Have we become complacent? Do I ignore the needs in our world or in my city? Can I choose to see the pain? The missionary two weeks ago from Nigeria really challenged us to look at the pain and suffering in his country. Can I ache for the pain of others in the world, or do I just want to bury my head and become complacent?
In the Gospel today, we find that the rich man is not given a name, but the poor, homeless man has a name, Lazarus. It is rare for Jesus in his stories to identify someone by name, so it is a conscious choice for Jesus to give this poor man a name. Why? Maybe it is because that is not how our world presently exists. We know the names of the rich and famous, but we don’t know the names of the poor. A century ago it was the Rockefellers, the Carnegies, the Vanderbilts. Today it is Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or Steve Jobs. But what about the names of those who have little and are never in the newspaper?
When we don’t know names we tend to group them together as “the poor”, the “homeless” the “welfare recipients.” I was reading this week that many states have potter fields where the homeless and indigent are buried. Many of these fields require that there not be a marker or name at the grave…only a number is given to the poor. What does that say about how we view the homeless and indigent?
God sees the poor and he knows their names. And in knowing their names, he has a personal relationship with them. I pray that God will know my name when I enter the Kingdom; I know he will know the names of the poor.
The Gospel concludes with the rich man asking Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five siblings about the eternal damnation. Even in his suffering, Abraham is still treating Lazarus as his servant, expecting him to do whatever benefits him and his family. One wonders if Abraham can see Lazarus as a child of God to whom he should honor as a brother? Might the great chasm between the rich man and Abraham be partly created by the attitude of the rich man who does not see Lazarus as an equal and brother?
Sometimes I will think about who I will see in heaven. Of course, we will be absorbed into the glory of God, Father, Son and Spirit. With God, it is easy to think about seeing my parents and friends who have died. We might think about seeing the saints, like Mother Teresa. But I wonder if the saints actually look forward to seeing all the people they have served over the years? Perhaps Mother Teresa looked forward to seeing the dying people of Calcutta who were now in full health and dressed in the heaven wedding garment!! Maybe St. Francis of Assisi longed to see his fellow beggars. Can I imagine myself seeing the poor in heaven and taking great joy?
So, let’s return to our readings and our story about Garfield the Cat. The challenge is not to become complacent and simply ignore, or not see, the people who cry out for help. We don’t have to drive $340,000 Rolls Royce cars or sleep in ivory beds to become complacent. All of us can be like Garfield, who simply removes Odie’s cold and hunger from his sight.
I call each of us to remove the complacency from our hearts so that we can see and feel the suffering of others. Let us not be like Garfield, but leave the curtain open and allow that to lead us to a response to those in need.
Let us not be like the rich man of the gospel, but let us see Larazus, care about Lazarus, know Lazarus as a brother or sister in Christ