In this Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and poor Lazarus. The rich man lives in luxury and egoism and is indifferent to the suffering of Lazarus, the beggar on his doorstep. At the end of their lives, Lazarus was welcomed into paradise, whereas the rich man ended up in torment. Lazarus was received “in the bosom of Abraham” whereas the rich man ended up in Hades. Divine justice prevails after their death.
This well-known parable reminds us that we must live according to God’s will, otherwise, after death, it will be too late to repent. God’s will is that we care for the poor, that we serve others in the charity of Christ. His will is that we live in solidarity with others and that we not ignore the poor and suffering in our midst. The path to heaven is love.
In the world today, there are so many people who lie outside the door, like Lazarus, while the dogs come and lick their sores. So many are deprived of the basic necessities of life, like food, housing, and medical care. To ignore them is to become like the rich man who pretended not to see the beggar Lazarus.
Whenever I hear this parable, I remember the homily of Saint John Paul II in Yankee Stadium in New York in 1979, during his first visit as pope to the United States. He said that this parable “must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience.” He said: “We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazaruses of the twentieth century stands at our doors.” These words are as relevant in 2016 as they were in 1979. There are still many Lazaruses in our world, here and abroad, who are hungry and too often ignored. I think particularly of the millions of refugees in the world today, innocent victims of war who have lost their livelihoods and their homes. So many are sitting outside the doors of nations that are indifferent to their plight.
Almost fifty years ago, Blessed Pope Paul VI spoke of the campaign against hunger in these words: “It is a question of building a world where every person can live a fully human life… where the poor man Lazarus can sit down at the same table with the rich man” (Populorum Progressio 47). Hunger is still a pressing issue today. Feed the hungry, Pope Benedict XVI wrote, “is an ethical imperative for the universal Church, as she responds to the teachings of her Founder, the Lord Jesus, concerning solidarity and the sharing of goods” (Caritas in veritate, 27).
Catholics Confront Global Poverty is an initiative of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and Catholic Relief Services. It involves advocacy and action. It is way to reach out to the Lazaruses at our doors. As a member of the Board of CRS, I have learned a lot about its work to fight world hunger. This work involves not only providing food in emergency and crisis situations, but also addressing the problem of food insecurity from a long-term perspective. CRS’s efforts in agricultural development and its investment in helping local communities to make best use of resources, to have the necessary resources in technology, to have adequate irrigation systems, and to gain access to the market are having a great impact in many poor countries. Catholic Relief Services also has many peace-building programs in troubled areas of the world. These efforts are also extremely important since war and violence are so often causes of hunger, poverty, and homelessness. Our support of CRS is a way to reach out to the Lazaruses in poor areas of the world.
Right here in our own diocese, we must not ignore the Lazaruses at our door. I am very grateful for the involvement and generosity of so many of our faithful who reach out to the hungry and the poor through their parishes, food pantries and soup kitchens, Catholic Charities, the Saint Vincent de Paul Society, the Christ Child Society, etc.
This coming Tuesday, September 27th, is the feast of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 16th century France, Saint Vincent de Paul observed the disparity between the rich and the poor. As a priest, he had the opportunity to experience the aristocratic life as well as the life of the destitute poor in Paris. He organized groups of women called Charities who gave their time and belongings to the poor. Some of these women chose the consecrated life and became the first female congregation to live a consecrated life “in the world,” and not in the cloister. Saint Vincent de Paul and Saint Louise de Marillac founded this congregation, named the “Daughters of Charity.” Our first U.S.-born saint, Mother Elizabeth Ann Seton, founded the U.S. branch of the Daughters of Charity.
Two centuries after Saint Vincent de Paul, a 20-year old college student, Frederick Ozanam, and five other students, witnessed the dire poverty of the lower social classes in Paris. They decided to dedicate themselves to the poor, after the example of Saint Vincent de Paul. In 1833, they established the “Conference of Charity of Saint Vincent de Paul,” soon to be called “The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul.” They were determined to bring not only bread but friendship to the poor. They would not ignore the Lazaruses at their door in 19th century Paris. Frederic Ozanam was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 1997.
We are blessed to have so many conferences of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society in our diocese. I encourage people to join these conferences which do so much to serve the Lazaruses at the door right here in our own diocese. I especially encourage our young adults in this regard. Many members of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society have served for many years and they continue to do great work. It is important that their service continues and grows, that more young people join them in this beautiful apostolate of charity.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus certainly speaks to us today in a world where there is so much poverty and destitution alongside wealth and affluence. The poor are our brothers and sisters to be welcomed and loved, not strangers to be ignored or rejected. In the poor, we are to see the face of Jesus as did our newest saint, Mother Teresa of Calcutta. May the Gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus stir our consciences! The Lord whom we see in the great gift of the Holy Eucharist asks us to see Him also in the lives of the poor and the suffering. May the Eucharist strengthen us in charity!