26th Sunday in OT / C / 2019
Msgr. Patrick S. Brennan
Pope Benedict once said that the Church does three essential things: 1) worships God, 2) evangelizes, and 3) cares for the poor. That is an entire "ecclesiology" in just a few words! Interestingly, each of these three things implies the other two: 1) if you worship God, you’re going to evangelize and care for the poor; 2) if you evangelize, it means you already worship God and care for the poor; and 3) if you care for the poor, you ARE evangelizing and worshipping God!
Depending on the circumstances of society and the Church, one or other of those three things will come to the fore. For St. John Paul II, it was evangelization—all of his travels, and talks, and writings. Evangelization. For Pope Benedict, it was worship and liturgy, establishing a "right relationship" with God.
And, of course, with Pope Francis, it is the poor. The story is told—and Francis tells it—that when Francis was elected pope, on his way to the balcony on St. Peter’s Square, he passed Card. Hummes of Brazil, who whispered in his ear: "Don’t forget the poor."
Pope Francis has stressed our obligation to the poor—and to preach from the standpoint of poverty—a poor Church. He certainly is not the first to care for the poor. Look at our history, extending all the way back to our Biblical tradition—our many saints who inspire us to take care of the poor: Mother Theresa, Vincent de Paul, Katherine Drexel, Dorothy Day, Martin de Porres, Peter Claver, Francis, and so on.
They all fall in line with the Prophet Amos in our first reading today, which is a withering indictment of the rich in his day who ignored the poor around them: "Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches," eating and drinking and anointing themselves, etc. Israel collapses around them, and they are indifferent—woe to them.
The parallel text to this is the Gospel. This Gospel has always bothered me—and I suspect it has bothered you. I remember one morning when I opened my door and there was a man lying across the doorstep. My first thought? Lazarus. And the Rich Man.
Notice that the Rich Man is not named—we sometimes call him "Dives," which simply means "rich" in Latin. But the poor man is named, Lazarus, which means, "God is my help." Isn’t this just the opposite of what we expect? We know the names of the rich and powerful in our society, but we don’t know the names of the people on the street. The Gospel makes a very strong point here.
In simple terms, the poor man goes to heaven, and rich man goes to hell. Remember the parable of the "sheep and the goats"? What are the criteria for going to heaven or hell? Feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, and so on. Cardinal George once famously said, "The poor need the rich to stay out of poverty; and the rich need the poor to stay out of hell."
Let me conclude with two signs of hope. The upcoming Sentinel has an article on cathedral parishioners who volunteer for Lift Urban Portland—a non-profit that provides food to hungry people in northwest Portland. More volunteers are needed!
And finally, our St. Vincent de Paul conference is up and running. See the Bulletin today for details.
A thanks to all of our parishioners for their hard work and generous giving on behalf of the poor. To them, Jesus says, "Come, share my Father’s joy."