FR. TOM'S HOMILY FOR THE 26th SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, September 25, 2022:
One of the most renowned individuals who lived a truly heroic life was the great Albert Schweitzer. Schweitzer was a theologian, a minister, a musicologist, a writer, a humanitarian, a philosopher, and physician. In 1950, he was named the “man of the century” by the National Arts Foundation. Two years later, he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his philosophy of the “Reverence for all life.” He wrote, “Reverence for Life affords me my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing all life; and that destroys, harms, or hinders life is evil.”
Although he achieved great heights, this is not how Schweitzer’s life began. In fact, in his youth, Albert was much more focused on pursuing a life of pleasure. He promised himself that he would simply enjoy life until he was 30 and then he would get serious. On his 30th birthday, he kept that promise and enrolled in university to get a degree in medicine. He promised that he would go to Africa and work among the poor as a missionary doctor after graduating.
His friends and family all tried to change his mind. “Why would you waste your life like this?” they asked. Nevertheless, by 38 he was a doctor and at the age of 43, he left for Africa where he opened a hospital on the edge of the jungle in Equatorial Africa. He would work there until his death at 90 years old in 1965.
What motivated him to give his life to work among the poorest of the poor? What caused him to alter the course of his life from a life of pleasure to a life of service? Well, Schweitzer himself said that it was today’s Gospel and the story of Lazarus and the rich man. He said, “After reading these words, it struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life, while so many people around me were wrestling with suffering. I had to do something.”
So, let’s think about these two images that Jesus gives us today – the rich man and the poor Lazarus. In this passage, what was the rich man’s sin? Did he order the poor Lazarus removed from his property? Did he beat him or shout obscenities at him? Did he otherwise directly harm the man? No. He did none of those things. The sin of the rich man was worse – he never even noticed Lazarus. The rich man’s response to the suffering right in front of him was apathy. He simply accepted this poor, sick, destitute beggar as just another part of the landscape. The sin of the rich man was doing nothing to help Lazarus when he should have. His sin was clinging to his personal wealth while not lifting a finger for the poor.
Last week, I shared a quote from Pope Francis about just this type of apathy. He said, “Poverty and the real needs of many people have become the acceptable norm. For example, if on a winter’s night a person dies in the cold, that’s not news. Or if there are children who have nothing to eat, that's not news, it seems normal. It cannot be this way! What matters is the love we express in our world by using our goods to help not just ourselves, but to help others in charity.”
I think this is, in part, why God chose to come among us as a poor, homeless person. Have you ever thought about that at Christmas time when we set up our beautiful nativity sets? The Nativity is really a scene of a poor, homeless family with nowhere to lay their heads. God chose to enter our world precisely in the places and in the people and in the ways that we, today, so often turn a blind eye to. When we look at the immigrant, the refugee, the homeless, the helpless, what do we see? Do we recognize them as icons of the very image of God as He was when He came to us?
I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us in a family that was homeless and migrant and in need of the help of others. Because He wanted us then and now, to look at our own family, to look at the homeless and helpless around us, and to see that God is present there too; they are not the “other;” they are our brother, our sister, our family; and to reach out to them in need.
By now, you know well one of my favorite quotes of Pope Francis when he was reflecting on the encounter between Jesus and St. Thomas, when Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. The Pope said, "Jesus reveals Himself in His wounds and so the path to our encounter with Jesus are His wounds. We find Jesus’ wounds in carrying out works of mercy, giving to the body of your wounded brother, because he is hungry, because he is thirsty, because he is naked because and is humiliated, because he is a slave, because he's in jail, because he is in the hospital. These are the wounds of Jesus today. We need to touch the wounds of Jesus. We must caress the wounds of Jesus. We need to bind the wounds of Jesus with tenderness. We have to kiss the wounds of Jesus, and this literally. To enter into the wounds of Jesus all we have to do is go out onto the street. Let us have the courage to enter into the wounds of Jesus with tenderness.”
Jesus reminds us today that living our faith means having eyes that are open to the needs around us; and the willingness to do our part to make the world a better place, a kinder place, a more compassionate place. The only thing that is not an option is to do nothing. We are called to reach out to Christ in His wounds all around us. As St. Paul encouraged us in our second reading today, “But you, man or woman of God, pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, and gentleness. Compete well for the faith.”
May the Lord give us peace.
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