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The 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 25, 2016

Click here to listen to this homily (mp4 file)

     Someone remarked to me not long ago that, Jubilee Year of Mercy or not, we have had a string of Sunday readings that haven’t been very merciful!   My friend had a point.  The readings for the past two or three months have been kind of a full court press.  And today’s are no exception.

     The prophet Amos sets the stage and the tone.  Amos was prophesying during the long reign of King Jeroboam.  It was a time of great economic prosperity for the kingdom of Israel.  The wealthy had become super-wealthy and were living luxurious lifestyles miles ahead of the poor.  Along with their high living came a kind of moral blindness, a selfish isolation, and a steady collapse of moral standards.  The great commandments of God’s Law about practicing justice and caring for the poor, the widows, and the orphans were all but forgotten.  The rich grew richer and the poor grew poorer. 

     That’s the context for today’s passage from Amos where we heard him railing against the comfortable and the complacent, “lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches…drinking wine from giant goblets and anointing themselves with the best oils.”  Later on in the prophecy, Amos will issue a stern warning that those who amass their fortunes and balance their books on the backs of the poor will one day be held to account by God.

     The reading from Amos was perfectly paired with the parable that Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus. I find it interesting that the poor man of the parable has a name – Lazarus - but the rich man goes nameless.  This is surprising because, whose name do you know better, Bill Gates or the beggar on the street corner?  We tend to know the rich person’s name, don’t we?  The poor one?   Maybe not so much.  But in Jesus’ parable, it’s the poor man who has a name while the rich man goes unnamed. There has to be a message there – not that the poor are more important than the rich; no, but the message could be that the poor, who often go nameless, do, in fact, have names and maybe we ought to get to know them.

     It’s worth noting, too, that in the parable, we learn the poor man’s name from the rich man. “Father Abraham,” he said, “have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering in these flames.” Sadly, though, it was only after he died, only after he had his encounter with Abraham - that the rich man actually used Lazarus’ name. When he was alive, while Lazarus lay in misery at his door, the rich man didn’t bother with his name. He looked the other way. And we’re left wondering if the rich man had condescended to call Lazarus by name when he passed him by, would he maybe have come to regard him as a brother, a fellow human being, and not just as ‘that beggar!’  We don’t know, of course. All we do know is that his ignoring of Lazarus had more than passing consequences.  It had eternal consequences.

     My friends, this story touches us in a most personal way. Many of us are that rich man. I know I am. This parable is for us, for me. And many of you - have taken it very much to heart.  You have.  You not only don’t ignore the Lazarus you meet on the street, you actually go out to meet him – or her – and you do everything you can to minister to him – or her.  You do.

     You work the winter shelter, you volunteer at the Cathedral Kitchen, or at the Solanus Casey Center, or with the St. Vincent de Paul Society; you tutor in the Immigrant Assistance program, make sandwiches for the homeless, serve as Emmaus companions, or are involved in the mental health ministry. And on and on it goes. You have found Lazarus, you call him by name, and you minister to him.  I stand in awe of this, to be honest.

     And I also want to say that some of you who are blessed with considerable means, and who might be expected to line up with the rich man of the parable, are not at all like that rich man. You are aware of the plight of Lazarus. You don’t look the other way. Instead, you very intentionally commit significant resources, and often your time and energy, to reach out to him.

     The truth, of course, is that every one of us is called to befriend Lazarus who lies at our door. Beyond the ways I’ve mentioned, there is our vote by which we help shape the public policy issues that affect Lazarus wherever he or she is found today. In the upcoming elections, national and local, we must look carefully at the candidates before us, their positions and priorities, what they stand for and don’t stand for. It would be great, of course, if they were all in step with the Church on the wide range of moral issues that comprise Catholic Social Teaching. They aren’t, although some certainly line up with more of our issues than others. And this much is certain: Catholic Social Teaching is not one issue: it is many issues. It is every issue that touches upon human life, from the sanctity and dignity of each and every human life from conception to natural death, to the preferential option for the poor, to issues of war and peace, torture, gun control, capital punishment, immigration, and care for our planet.

     And this much is certain, too: an election is never a time for putting our own selfish interests first. It’s always about the Common Good, and it’s always a time for taking the long look, the moral look, the selfless, generous look, the just look.  Lazarus is at our door.  And it matters mightily whether we care for him or her, and it matters mightily how we care for him or her.  It matters now, my friends, and it matters eternally!    

Father Michael G. Ryan




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