Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Sermon on the rich man and Lazarus, September 26th

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. September 26th, 2010.
Gospel. Luke 16:19-31, The rich man and Lazarus.

Abraham replied, “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, whereas you are tormented.”

Hell is not a topic many people today are comfortable hearing about. In fact, of all the doctrines of the Catholic faith, hell is certainly one of the most neglected. Perhaps we have never, or hardly ever, heard a homily about hell.
Indeed, we live in a world which denies the existence of hell, a world which refuses to believe that eternal punishment is a real possibility. Perhaps we ourselves can fall to this temptation at times. Even if we do admit the reality of hell, we might be inclined to reserve damnation to a select few, to those particularly horrible sinners – terrible murderers, war criminals, and the like. Hell is for people like them, hell is for monsters.
In doing this we separate ourselves from sinners, we save ourselves from having to confront the judgment of God, we make hell a place for “them” not a reality which has anything to do with “us”. But then we are confronted with a passage like the parable of today’s Gospel.

We hear that there was a rich man and a poor man, and the rich man did not help the poor man. For this sin alone, the rich man was condemned to hell; but the poor man was saved. It strikes me that we know almost nothing at all about the rich man…we do not even know his name. He may have been married, perhaps he was a good father and a good husband. He was most likely an active member of his community. He was certainly a fun guy to be around. We might note with some surprise that he might have even been fairly generous to some poor people – we have no reason to think that he wouldn’t have given to the food bank (or the 1st century equivalent thereof).
All we know about him is that, whatever else he did in his life, he did not help Lazarus. And for this one sin – a sin which cries out to heaven for vengeance – for this one sin he was condemned to the everlasting punishments of hell. He was rich and he refused to relieve the poor man who begged from him. This cost him his salvation.

And I ask, my brothers and sisters, has anything changed in 2000 years? Perhaps this: if the rich man ignored the poor man’s cry, he at least allowed Lazarus to sit and beg at the door. I think it likely that, if a poor man was begging outside our homes day and night, we would probably call the police and have him taken away. If the rich man ignored Lazarus’ cry, we live in a society which systematically suffocates the cry of the poor!
Some day we will all come to understand what our Savior meant when he said, “Blessed are you poor, but woe to you who are rich.”

The poor are God’s gift to us. It is through mercy and charity toward them that we will work out our salvation. Pope John Paul II has said, “It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as a people – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.” Whatever we do to the poor, we do to Christ. And whatever we do not do to the poor, we do not do to Christ.

And so I ask: Without almsgiving, how should we ever inherit life everlasting?