A beautiful history of helping the Lazarus at our door

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26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C: Sept. 25-26, 2010
Amos 6:1, 4-7; Ps 146:7-10; 1 Tim 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31

We have just heard, in the Gospel reading, Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man. And, just a few years ago, there was a man living in downtown DC who was sort of like the figure of Lazarus in that parable. His name was Anthony—Anthony Cosby. Anthony had grown up in Richmond; and then after high school he went into the Navy, and he served in the Navy for 6 years. And then, after leaving the Navy, he got a part-time job. Well, actually, he got two or three part-time jobs; none of them paid very much. And, as he went on, he couldn’t make ends meet; to the extent that he ended up losing his housing. Now, Anthony never abused alcohol or drugs. He just couldn’t make his finances work. And, before long, he was out of his home, sleeping on church steps and sleeping in shelters. Anthony even had two children who lived elsewhere, and he wasn’t able to visit them often, because of the schedule of when he needed to get back to the shelter; and because he didn’t let them know that he was homeless. He was ashamed, and he didn’t want them to know this. So this went on for two years, as he tried to break the cycle; but he couldn’t do it.

So far, this sounds a lot like the story of Lazarus. But it has a different ending. Because our own Catholic Charities did not leave Anthony homeless. Through its Fortitude Housing Program, they gave him his own furnished apartment; and they also made a connection for him with his own case-worker, someone who will call him almost every day and work with him one on one. Now this case worker says that Anthony is his “star pupil.” Anthony now has a full-time job, and is taking college classes at Strayer University. And now his kids can come to visit him—in his own home.

The parable that we hear from Jesus today, about Lazarus and the rich man, comes in the later part of Luke chapter 16. Now last week, you remember, we heard a parable from the early part of that chapter, the parable of the dishonest steward. And in his remarks after that parable he said, “You cannot serve both God and mammon.” In the next verse we read in the Gospel: The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all these things and sneered at him. And so today’s parable he tells, directed at them. We know that the Pharisees wanted to be righteous, wanted to uphold and follow the Law; but that they had some blind spots; and it seems that one of those blind spots was that, in their desire for money, they were ignoring the needs of the poor people around them. And so Jesus tells this parable to warn them that this is a sin, with eternal punishment as its consequence. It is not enough that they do not do harm or treat cruelly the poor; for neither does the rich man in this story. But Jesus is telling them that they, and we, need to reach out and help the poor who need our help.

Now this parable does have sort of a harsh tone. But that is because Jesus was directing it at the Pharisees, who were hardened against his message and, as we heard, were actually sneering at him. He was trying to shake them up, trying to get them to hear what he was saying. In our case, I would like to set this parable against a background: the background of 2000 years of the Church. For there we find very good news. For, as we look at the history of the Church, collectively and individually, we find that, unlike the Pharisees, Catholics have heard Jesus’ message, have followed his words, and have indeed reached out to the poor and needy at our doors!

If we look at the stories of our saints, in page after page we find men and women—in their own place and time, throughout these 20 centuries—who looked and noticed some group within their society that was being ignored. And they said, “I want to reach out to them. I do not want them to be ignored or neglected.” And they would start to do that. And very often they would gather others around them, and they would work together. And we see, as I literally did flip through pages of saints, names like

  • St. Angela Merici; St. John Bosco; St. Jerome Emiliani; St. Frances of Rome; St. Peter Claver; St. Vincent de Paul; and St. Martin de Porres.
  • And here in the United States, saints like St. Katharine Drexel; St. Damian of Molokai; and Mother Cabrini.

All, examples of saints in their own times and places who did this same thing—reaching out to the Lazarus in their society. Now, many of these names I just mentioned were priests or religious sisters who motivated others to join them, and thereby formed organizations, societies, religious orders, that carried on this work. But we also find the stories of other saints, faithful laypeople, who did this in their own lives as well—who used their influence to enact just laws in their society; who used their resources to provide for the needs of the poor. And among these faithful laypeople in the pages of the saints, we find names like:

  • St. Louis of France, St. Wenceslaus, St. Elizabeth of Portugal, St. Elizabeth of Hungary, St. Margaret of Scotland, and many more.

And surely we all remember, in our own time, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and her Missionaries of Charity, who have been the latest in this series of bright lights in the Church, who have shone with generosity and love in a dark world.

Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses [Heb 12:1], let us then, in our own lives, resist the lure of advertisements that would have us indulge in rich food or rich clothes, like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, or in rich furniture and rich entertainment, like those people that the prophet Amos addressed in the first reading. Instead let us look to the light of the saints and the light of Jesus in reaching out to the Lazaruses among us.

In our own parish, we especially do this through the Food Pantry that our St. Vincent de Paul Society operates, through the donations of so many of our parishioners every week. And we also do it through the work of Catholic Charities.

The U.S. Bishops have asked us to say a little about the work of Catholic Charities today—not because there is any special collection, but because this weekend Catholic Charities USA celebrates its 100th anniversary! Nationally, Catholic Charities USA is an association of local, independent agencies that collectively serve 8.5 million people every year. Locally, our own Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington, reaches out to help families battling poverty, and has done so for 80 years. They help people who are homeless; people with disabilities. They help immigrants and refugees. They help people suffering from mental illness; people needing medical care; poor people who need help with food or legal representation. Through all of these services—through 79 programs that they operate in more than 50 locations throughout our diocese—Catholic Charities helps every Lazarus who comes to their doors: last year, this counted up to 105,000 Lazaruses.

Now, each year in February we all have the opportunity to donate to support the work of Catholic Charities when we give to the Archbishop’s Appeal. Right now Federal workers can contribute to Catholic Charities through the Combined Federal Campaign. And at any time you can check their web site— CatholicCharitiesDC.org—for other opportunities to give to them, including opportunities to volunteer to participate in a hands-on way in these programs through which they help so many people.

St. Paul wrote to Timothy, in the verses that come right after our second reading today:

Tell the rich in the present age not to be proud and not to rely on so uncertain a thing as wealth but rather on God, who richly provides us with all things for our enjoyment. Tell them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous, ready to share, thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life.

As we follow Christ; as we follow the example of so many saints before us; we lift up the Lazaruses, the Anthony Cosbys, at our own door. And we also lift up ourselves, in generosity, in love, and in solidarity with our fellow human beings. We lay hold of eternal life, to which we are called. And one day we will hear the King of kings and Lord of lords himself say to us: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” [Matt 25:34]

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Published in: on September 26, 2010 at 11:00 pm  Leave a Comment  
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