Christ in the Distressing Disguise of the Poor at our Doorstep

by Angela Lambert

richmanlazarus

September 25th, 2016; 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 16:19-31 NAB

Jesus said to the Pharisees: “There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs even used to come and lick his sores. When the poor man died, he was carried away by angels to the bosom of Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried, and from the netherworld, where he was in torment, he raised his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he cried out, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.’ 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. Moreover, between us and you a great chasm is established to prevent anyone from crossing who might wish to go from our side to yours or from your side to ours.’ He said, ‘Then I beg you, father, send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they too come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ He said, ‘Oh no, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ Then Abraham said, ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’”

 Meditation Reflection:

Pope St. John Paul II often said that self-fulfillment and happiness can only be found in self-gift.  This paradoxical truth flies in the face of our cultural idolization of individualism summarized in mottos such as “looking out for number 1” or “YOLO – you only live once.”  We often ignore the needs of those right in front of us.  Lazarus lay at the rich man’s doorstep but we often ignore family members who live within our own home or are only a phone call away.

I recently read an article by Pierre Manent in First Things magazine  (“Repurposing Europe” April, 2016)  in which he reflects on the current state of political life in France from which any of us who lives in Western culture could learn.  Politics refers to the way in which people organize themselves as a community and view their responsibility toward the common good.  He observes that the move from Christendom to nationalism has been superseded by a move from nationalism to individualism.  Moreover, in a secular culture, the problem has been compounded by a lack of belief/reliance on divine providence.  In consequence, he asserts, France struggles with “a growing incapacity to propose goals for common action.”  Because of the “great withdrawal of loyalty from the community,” a society united merely by individual rights lacks the “capacity to gather and direct our powers, to give our common life form and force.”

Manent’s observations of his own French history resonates with the American experience as well.  Hyper-individualism, secularism, and a world-view that lacks an eternal horizon creates its own set of problems.  There are problems that are too big for us as individuals and require a unified effort which is only possible with a common view of the good and willingness to sacrifice for it.  There are also problems that are too big for us as a nation and can only be approached with a confidence in divine providence and the aid of a God who “protects the resident alien, comes to the aid of the orphan and the widow, but thwarts the way of the wicked” (Psalm 146:9).

In this year of mercy, Christ’s words exhort us in a special way to look beyond ourselves and to discover that our own happiness can only be found in concern for the well-being of others.  He does not scold the rich man for fine dinners, Jesus scolds him for ignoring Lazarus – who was sitting on his doorstep – while eating that dinner.  The cold-heartedness and lack of compassion for the suffering of another person fails to fit us for heaven – a place of perfect love and communion with God and all the saints.

Mother Teresa, famous for her compassion for the poor and recently canonized, advised us all to serve the poor in our own families and to comfort those in our own life who suffer spiritually, emotionally, or physically.    She found Christ in “the distressing disguise of the poorest of the poor.”  Sometimes we might hesitate to look too closely because it can be quite distressing.  We’d rather accept the fake smile and the rote “I’m fine” than dig deeper.  St. Mother Teresa acknowledges, “It is easy to love the people far away.  It is not always easy to love those close to us.  Bring love into your home, for this is where our love for each other must start.” I am challenged by this often as a teacher and a mother.  However, I pray for the grace to “cast out into the deep” (Luke 5:4), encouraged and convicted by Christ’s words that “whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25:40).

We grow our capacity to love on earth.  People often complain about how mean it is that God would “send someone to Hell.”  In reality, individuals send themselves there.  God has made hell out of mercy that we might have the freedom to choose Him or reject Him, to choose Love or to reject Love.  We can see a glimpse of this in the differing experiences of people at the same event.  Sacrificing time to serve the needs of another will either bring you joy or pain depending on your disposition.  For example, with my first child, I had difficulty adjusting at first to the constant needs which thwarted at every moment whatever I wanted to do at the time.  At one point I felt like I could literally feel the fires of purgatory burning away my self-will as I stopped what I was doing to tend to his interrupting need.  The experience made me realize just how attached I actually was to my own desires and plans.  Thankfully, God’s grace and love for my children helped me to grow and detach.  I still struggle with impatience sometimes but I have a lot more peace now and enjoy my new priorities.  I have learned by experience that I was trading something less valuable for something much more valuable.  Rather than losing an opportunity I had been given the greatest opportunity:

“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct.” Matthew 16:24-27

Let us continue to renew our efforts to share our joys with others and to invite them to our feast. Let’s keep practicing the works of mercy and praying for God to open our eyes to the needs of those around us.  I like to ask Mary’s intercession for this particular request because she especially showed compassion and insight toward the needs of others during her life (consider the Wedding Feast at Cana). Comforting the sorrowful, counseling the doubtful, and feeding the hungry can be met in a simple family meal together.  Kids soak up stability and comfort around the kitchen counter and something as simple as dinner or making banana bread can provide peace for their souls.

We accept God or reject God here, in this life and You Only Live Once.  I’ll close with this story of St. Martin of Tours surprising encounter with the Lord and his example of the right choice:

Even in the military Martin attempted to live the life of a monk. Though he was entitled to a servant because he was an officer, he insisted on switching roles with his servant, cleaning the servant’s boots instead of the other way around! It was on this garrison duty at Amiens that the event took place that has been portrayed in art throughout the ages. On a bitterly cold winter day, the young tribune Martin rode through the gates, probably dressed in the regalia of his unit — gleaming, flexible armor, ridged helmet, and a beautiful white cloak whose upper section was lined with lambswool. As he approached the gates he saw a beggar, with clothes so ragged that he was practically naked. The beggar must have been shaking and blue from the cold but no one reached out to help him. Martin, overcome with compassion, took off his mantle. In one quick stroke he slashed the lovely mantle in two with his sword, handed half to the freezing man and wrapped the remainder on his own shoulders. Many in the crowd thought this was so ridiculous a sight that they laughed and jeered but some realized that they were seeing Christian goodness. That night Martin dreamed that he saw Jesus wearing the half mantle he had given the beggar. Jesus said to the angels and saints that surrounded him, “See! this is the mantle that Martin, yet a catechumen, gave me.” When he woke, it was the “yet a catechumen” that spurred Martin on and he went immediately to be baptized. He was eighteen years old.” (http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=81)

Consider:

  • Why do the poor “distress” us? What do we worry will happen if we reach out?
  • Who are the poor at your doorstep? Children with many needs, a relative or colleague going through a difficult time, someone struggling with sorrow or mental illness, someone dealing with a chronic illness, a new employee or colleague who is overwhelmed and needing a little mentoring or a word of encouragement…
  • When serving others, what is most difficult for you to give up?
  • When have you experienced that “in giving you received”? Have you found that when you took a leap of faith and made a gift of self through sacrifice you actually found fulfillment and joy?
  • We all have different gifts to put at the service of the Lord. Consider and pray about what your gifts are and how you might use them more.  (Some ideas: encouraging, teaching, healing, serving, financial giving, leadership, administrating, prayer and fasting, offering up suffering, understanding, hospitality…)

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Make a list of all the people in your life and one need for each. Every day this week meet a need of at least one or two people on that list.
  • Read about the life of a saint each day. They provide concrete examples for us of love in action.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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