Sunday, September 25, 2016
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Seek the Real Comfort
In the first reading, God tells us of the complacency in Zion. The people got wealthy. They lived comfortable lives with beds of ivory, eating lambs and enjoying the high life. The people drank the best wines and anointed themselves with the best oils or perfumes. He tells them that they will be the first to go into exile and that their revelry will be done away with. Zion forgot its humble beginnings. The people of Jerusalem in Israel forgot the times they were under chains living in the desert and in poverty (Exodus 14:30). God provided for them (Exodus 16:4). They are now established in the holy land and feel they are entitled to the best the earth had to offer at the time (Exodus 16:35). We must not become like them (Psalm 106). We must not become too comfortable in this world. Unfortunately, our Catholic Church has gotten too comfortable in the world.
Pope Francis and Pope Benedict XVI have reminded us of this many times. Benedict XVI reminded us that we forgot our evangelization zeal. He also stated, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." We are not going out into the world as we should in order to preach the Gospel. Instead, we sit in our parishes and wait for people to show up on schedule. Then when they do not show up, we wonder what happened and begin to shut down parishes. Pope Francis reminds us that we have locked ourselves up in the walls of rectories and the like. We are not going out there getting the scent of the sheep, so to speak. We are not going out there reaching out to the one sheep that got away (Matthew 18:12). I say "we" because of the "pastoral sloth," as I call it, not only rests on the clergy but on all of us, religious or lay. We all have an obligation to evangelize depending on our state in life. Our Church has gotten too comfortable. We have gotten too comfortable with man-made governments. We have gotten too comfortable with the customs of societies where Mass times are altered to fit our work schedules rather than the other way around. Which is more important!? The new Zion, our Catholic Church must get out of the ivory bed and be as Jesus was who had no place to rest His head (Matthew 8:20). The beautiful Church buildings and artistic wealth the Church has is fine and dandy, but at the end, God has no need of it (Acts 7:48). He prefers having His children back (2 Chronicles 7:14). This should be our focus. If we do not evangelize, we will be left with these beautiful buildings empty and ready to be sold in order to become parking lots or apartments.
The Church must be poor, as our Holy Father Pope Francis has said numerous times. She must be a field hospital, not a Hilton hotel. Our clergy must be shepherds, not princes or lords. We must concern ourselves with evangelization, bringing souls home to God, especially our own. Blessed indeed is he who keeps the faith forever, as the responsorial Psalm tells us. He is the one who secures justice for the oppressed and feeds the hungry. We must help others, especially the stranger (Exodus 22:21-22, Hebrews 13:2). It pains me to see on Twitter and other social networks how some Protestant conservative Christians attacked the young boy in the ambulance who was rescued after an attack in Aleppo, Syria. People tweeted that the boy should have died. Others say, that his life is no concern of ours; that we have our own children to worry about. These people dare to call themselves Christians and bible-believers! How dare they!? This attitude goes against Christ (Jeremiah 22:3, Matthew 19:14)). We must care for one another whether citizen, illegal immigrant or refugee. Granted, we must do so safely and with prudence, but the help must always be there. God gives the blind sight (Luke 4:18). Raises those who are made to bow down (James 4:10). He is always there for the stranger and just. We must imitate God and be there for the pariahs of the world. We must lead by example, as the second reading tells us (Titus 2:7).
The second reading should be meditated upon by all of us, especially the clergy. The men and women of God must pursue righteousness, not their egos. They must have devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. They must be a well for the faith so that others can come drink and be quenched of their thirst (Matthew 5:16). Priests must not be rude, nasty, egotistical or maniacal (1 Timothy 3). They must be humble and kind, bearing things for the sake of Christ and His priesthood (Titus 1:5-9, Proverbs 27:23). This goes for all of us as well. I mention the clergy specifically because they are the official representatives of the Church. It takes just one nasty bad-attitude priest to scare one or more from God and the Church. This is not what a priest is supposed to do. A shepherd protects the flock, not scare it. Only the wolf does that. We all must lay hold of eternal life which can only be found in Christ present in the Eucharist, the bread of life (John 6:35). A holy bishop I worked for years ago as a master of ceremony told me that a great priest is made when he is devoted to the Blessed Sacrament and Our Lady. He is 100% correct. Priests who follow this model go on to become holy men. This is also applicable to religious and the laity. We must be devoted to Christ in the Holy Eucharist and Our Lady. Next month is October, the month of the Rosary. I recommend this prayer to every Catholic. This week, we celebrated the feast day of St. Pio of Pietrelcena (read more on him here: http://www.sacerdotus.com/2014/09/padre-pio.html). This humble Franciscan Friar from the Capuchin branch of the Order of Friars minor was devoted to the Holy Eucharist and Our Lady. It is no wonder that he became a saint because of his focus on Jesus and Mary. Jesus and Mary is the reason the Catholic Church exists; the reason the Bible exists. God promised Adam and Eve that the woman will come who will bear the child who will crush the serpent's head (Genesis 3:15). It is clear that Jesus and Mary are the center of it all. In them, we restore the image of God that we are supposed to be (Genesis 1:27). We grow in grace and learn to love one another while at the same time avoiding becoming the rich man we will read about in the Gospel.
In the Gospel, Jesus tells us of the rich man and Lazarus. The Church Fathers debated as to whether this was a parable or based on historical figures. They argued that in parables, Jesus never used names. However, in this case, he gives the name of Lazarus which may indicate that this poor man did exist and Jesus used his life and circumstance to tell the parable. In any event, we must understand and focus on the purpose of the parable. There was a rich man who wore purple garments and had great dinners each day. At the rich man's door was Lazarus, a leper covered with sores. This man was ignored by the rich man who left him outside desiring even the scraps that fell from the rich man's table as dogs licked his sores. The sight must have been ghastly. Eventually, the poor man Lazarus passed away. He was taken to the bosom of Abraham by the angels. Some scholars believe this bosom is a reference to purgatory. We can assume this because if the only "places" that exist outside of earth is heaven and hell, then what is this bosom of Abraham? Clearly, there is another "place" or state of being. Anyhow, the rich man eventually died as well and was taken to the netherworld or hell. There he suffered and was in torment. He looked up and saw Abraham and cried out, "Father Abraham, have pity on me." Clearly, the rich man was in hell since he had to look up to Abraham who is called "Father." Our Protestant brethren often have an issue with us calling our priests and pope "father." Clearly, this was no issue for Jesus who used the title for Abraham. Abraham is our father in faith just like the pope and our priests are (1 Corinthians 4:15).
The rich man saw Lazarus with Abraham and asked him to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger with water in order to cool his tongue. He has some nerve! While on earth, he denied Lazarus even the crumbs from his dinner table, yet wanted Lazarus to bring him water on his finger tip! This tells us how out of touch this rich man was. However, Abraham was not having it and told him, "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, where you are tormented." Then he tells the rich man that a chasm was created to prevent souls from crossing to either state (heaven, hell, purgatory). The rich man realized that after life there are consequences to what we do or not do on earth. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his father's house so he can warn his five brothers about hell.
Abraham tells him that they have Moses and the prophets to listen to via the Torah. However, the rich man insists that an apparition or the resurrection of a dead Lazarus would be more effective. Abraham replies that if they did not listen to Moses and the prophets, that they will not listen to anyone who will rise from the dead. These are powerful words. They remind me of atheists who will argue against you for the sake of arguing. They will not accept anything you tell them or show them in regards to God and religion. Some even will not believe unless they see an old man with a white beard sitting on a throne above the earth! St. Thomas Aquinas tells us, “To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary. To one without faith, no explanation is possible.” We must avoid getting into arguments with a contrarian fool (Proverbs 26:4-14, Proverbs 29:9). This rich man represents those with no faith and those who are lukewarm. We must not be like him. Our faith must be sincere. We have the Church, Sacred Scripture, Tradition and the Magisterium or Sacred Deposit. There is nothing more that we need. We must not pick and choose what we want to accept. As the late Cardinal John Joseph O'Connor of New York said,"The Church is not a salad bar, from which to pick and choose what pleases you." We must accept the whole meal and accept suffering just as Lazarus did. He trusted in God's words.
The rich man was not condemned to hell for being rich. What condemned him was his selfishness. He had enough to help Lazarus but did not. God gives wealth so that it may be used for good (Deuteronomy 8:18, Ecclesiastes 6:2). St. Pope John Paul II tells us, "Was the rich man condemned because he had riches because he abounded in earthly possessions because he "dressed in purple and linen and feasted splendidly every day?" No, I would say that it was not for this reason. The rich man was condemned because he did not pay attention to the other man. Because he failed to take notice of Lazarus, the person who sat at his door and who longed to eat the scraps from his table. Nowhere does Christ condemn the mere possession of earthly goods as such. Instead, he pronounces very harsh words against those who use their possessions in a selfish way, without paying attention to the needs of others. The Sermon on the Mount begins with the words: "Blessed are the poor in spirit". And at the end of the account of the Last Judgment as found in St. Matthew's Gospel, Jesus speaks the words that we all know so well: "I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was away from home and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing. I was ill and in prison and you did not come and comfort me" (Mt 25:42–43). The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need—openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or half-hearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so.(Apostolic Journey to the United States of America, Holy Mass at Yankee Stadium, New York City, October 2, 1979)" We must not be selfish. If we have wealth, we should try our best to help others, especially those in dire need. This is why I am always asking readers to help me expand this ministerial work by donating at my PayPal or gofundme.com/sacerdotus so that I can reach more people and those who donate can add to their "books" the good works necessary for salvation in conjunction with faith and grace.
This book is what God will read, the book of our lives. We want the pages in the book of our lives to be added to the book of life (Daniel 12:1, Luke 10:20, Revelation 20:15, Philippians 4:3). St. Augustine tells us, "Jesus kept quiet about the rich man's name and mentioned the name of the poor man. The rich man's name was thrown around, but God kept quiet about it. The other's name was lost in silence, and God spoke it. Please do not be surprised. God just read out what was written in his book. You see, God who lives in heaven kept quiet about the rich man's name because he did not find it written in heaven. He spoke the poor man's name because he found it written there, indeed he gave instructions for it to be written there. ("Sermon 33A.4", quoted in Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 261.)" Having wealth is not a bad in itself. It is how we make use of it that determines whether it is bad or not. Donating to help the poor, our parishes or helping me expand this evangelization work pleases God. This is because in giving, we show detachment from material goods. They do not control us. We do not worship it as master like last Sunday's readings warn us against. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI tells us, "In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus admonishes us through the image of a soul destroyed by arrogance and opulence, who has created an impassable chasm between himself and the poor man; the chasm of being trapped within material pleasures; the chasm of forgetting the other, of incapacity to love, which then becomes a burning and unquenchable thirst. (Spe Salvi, 44)" We must help others, especially the poor and less fortunate in the eyes of the world. Our riches are not secured in heaven (Matthew 19-21). We cannot take anything to heaven, not even our bodies. This is why we must make good use of our material goods by helping others. Those who give will receive (Luke 6:38). May Jesus Christ be praised!
In light of today's readings, please consider donating or becoming a regular benefactor. Donate at my PayPal or www.gofundme.com/sacerdotus. No amount is too small or too big.
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