28th / 29th September 2019

posted 30 Sept 2019, 03:05 by Parish Office

Homily for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

(28 & 29/9/19)


How do you define someone who is rich?  Someone who is now a deacon, who lives in one of the richer parishes in the diocese, once said to me that in his parish, ministry to the poor is to those families with only two cars on their drive.  Conversely, someone living on the streets of Calcutta could say that someone in this country living on benefits is a rich man – he has his own house to live in, running water, heating, food, free healthcare – what more could you want?  There are extremes when it comes to riches and poverty, yes, but the dangers Christ warns us about today are dangers for us all.


In the first reading, we hear:

“Woe to those ensconced so snugly in Zion

and to those who feel so safe on the mountain of Samaria …

they dine on lambs from the flock,

and stall-fattened veal.”

I think we all, to an extent, dream of a life of luxury.  Perhaps we already enjoy it, to an extent.  I was told of a priest from Africa who was visiting this country, and the Parish Priest took him to a supermarket.  On seeing all of the fruit piled up, he burst into tears.  We have so much, and they have so little!  Are we not more like the rich man in the parable, rather than Lazarus?


Part of the problem with the rich man wasn’t that he lived a luxurious life.  The main issue was that he was so busy enjoying himself and locked up in that lifestyle that poor Lazarus went without.


Like the rich man, we can find we have also locked ourselves up in our riches.  They’re mine, and I’ll do with them what I like.  This is where some might begin to accuse the Church of being semi-communist.  What we own is not absolutely ours.  We have a duty and responsibility towards others, what is sometimes called human solidarity.  And it’s not just an idea that the Church borrowed from the communists and watered down a bit.  This teaching pre-dates communism.  St John Chrysostom, Archbishop of Constantinople, who lived in the 4th century, said, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life.  The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs”[1].  Pope St Gregory the Great, who was Pope in the 6th century, said, “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours.  More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”[2]  As I mentioned last week, we do believe in the right to private property, but it’s not an absolute right.  The whole world belongs to everyone, and everything on it.  The poor do have a right to demand our assistance.  And we must also remember that it is at the final judgement when those who have helped the poor will be on Christ’s right hand, whilst those who neglected to help them will be on his left.


There is, of course, a need for some balance with all of this, though.  Just imagine if you won seven million on the lottery, and you decided to give it all away to charities, without spending a single penny on yourself, or anyone else for that matter.  You could have just sent off the last cheque, or made the final donation on-line, and then arrives through your letterbox an advert for another charity.  Crumbs.  I had all that money, and I’ve not given them a single bit of it.  Am I now going to find myself on Christ’s left hand, because I didn’t give anything to help build wells in remote parts of Africa?  Well obviously not.  There’s only so much you can do, and that means that you can’t help every charity, just the same as when a charity asks for money and you support them, you give them something, but you don’t give them the entire contents of your bank balance, and all your savings.


We can, though, at times, lose our focus a bit.  Back in the 1830s in Paris, there was a group of committed Catholics who were defending the Church against accusations of always helping the rich and powerful.  At one point, someone said to them that they say all these things, but what are they actually doing to help the poor?  They realised that they had a point, and from that began the Society of St Vincent de Paul.  We can turn this around to ourselves:  each time we pray the Our Father, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread”.  We don’t say, “Give us this day my daily bread”, but rather “our daily bread”.  We are praying for everyone, not just ourselves.  But if we don’t share our bread with the poor, are we not frustrating what we have just prayed for, and are we not frustrating the will of God?  Yes, I know there is the saying, “Give a man a fish and you’ll feed him for a day.  Teach a man to fish and you’ll feed him for life.”  There is the role of work and business in all of this as well.  But if you’re homeless and on the streets, if someone tells you, “I’ll set up a company to make a few more jobs”, you need feeding now, not in a few months’ time.


The rich man and Lazarus:  how much do we notice those in need, and how much do we do to help them?

[1] [Hom. in Lazarum 2, 5:  PG 48, 992, quoted in CCC 2446]

[2]  [Regula Pastoralis 3, 21:  PL 77,87, quoted in CCC 2446]