Saturday, September 24, 2016

Why would you waste your life?


In 1950, Albert Schweitzer was named the “man of the century.” Two years later, he would be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. All of this, because he proved himself to be a man of deep faith called to live a life of heroic action. When he was 21, Schweitzer promised himself that he would enjoy life until he was 30 and then he would get serious. On his 30th birthday, he kept his 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?” 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? He said that it was today’s Gospel. “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,” he said.

In today’s Gospel passage about the rich man, what was his 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. He 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.

Pope Francis makes this point in The Joy of the Gospel. He wrote, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? It cannot be this way. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving?”

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? These are really scenes 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?

We know that the poor are all around us here. Our city and region struggles with unemployment, with a heroin epidemic, with homelessness and hunger. In many places, you can find a homeless woman or man huddled under a blanket or a cardboard box. As we pass them by, do we see God present there when we see them? This is where He is present today.

I think this is exactly why Jesus came to us in a family, and one 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.

Pope Francis reflected a few years ago on the Feast of St. Thomas the Apostle where Thomas places his fingers in the wounds of Christ. He 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.”

So, what are we to do? Well, that will be different for each one of us. It starts with seeing the most marginalized people in our society as our brothers and sisters, as people in need of God’s love expressed through our prayers and actions. Jesus reminds us today that the only thing that is not an option is to do nothing. Our faith calls forth so much more from us. We are all called to reach out to the world around us – especially the world in need; especially to touch Christ in His wounds. If we have the courage to do it, we will be changed for the better by it; changed to be more like Christ.

May the Lord give us peace.

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