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Watch 2022-2023 online sermons » Robert Barron » Robert Barron - How Are You Caring for the Poor?

Robert Barron - How Are You Caring for the Poor?

Robert Barron - How Are You Caring for the Poor?
TOPICS: Good Works

Peace be with you. Friends, Pope Benedict memorably said the Church does three essential things. And this has just stayed in my mind ever since I read it, because it's so clarifying. The three essential things Church does; it evangelizes, it worships God, and it cares for the poor, those three things. Think of all the institutions, all the expressions of ecclesial life, they fall under one of those three rubrics. And in fact, an entire ecclesiology I think can be constructed from that insight.

Notice first, how they're all related to each other. Each one leads to the other and that's talk for another day. I think it's interesting the last three popes, I think hit one of these three especially. Look at John Paul II. Evangelization was so key to him. Now, the other two as well. I mean, no one doubts that, but if there was a focus of John Paul II, it was on the evangelization. Pope Benedict, I would say it was on the worship of God. He was very concerned about the integrity of the liturgy. The other two as well, of course, for him. And then with Pope Francis, I think pretty clearly it's care for the poor. From the beginning of his papacy, it's been a hallmark of his teaching and his practice.

Again with him too, the other two are present, but I think there's a emphasis that's pretty clear in each one. And that's okay. So it's been up and down the centuries of a Church's life, maybe one or the other of these three gets emphasized. Remember it was Cardinal Hummes of Brazil, who they say right after the election of Pope Francis went up to his friend and he said, "no te olvides de los pobres", don't forget the poor. And Pope Francis said that has stayed in his mind and heart ever since. He wants a poor Church on behalf of the poor. I mean, all of that is very important to him. And in doing this, of course he's not inventing some novelty.

It's right in this great tradition of the Church that stretches back across the centuries from a Mother Teresa of Calcutta, to Vincent de Paul, to Dorothy Day, to Martin de Porres to Peter Claver, Francis of Assissi, John Chrysostom, Ambrose of Milan. I mean up and down history, you can find examples of the Church caring for the poor. And where's it all come from ultimately? From the Bible. I mentioned last week, how the Bible's almost unique in the way it calls to account political and economic leadership. It's skeptical of leaders who now use their power to abuse others. The critical eye of the prophets. That's a very unique thing. Well, we've been reading now from the prophet Amos and of all the great prophets, it's true in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, the rest of them, but maybe especially so in Amos, which is why, as I mentioned last week, Martin Luther King was so enamored of him.

Amos is maybe the strongest at calling out those who oppress the poor. Listen to him now from our reading today and try not to be deeply challenged by this language. "Woe to the complacent in Zion". Zion, so Jerusalem, those who are in top leadership positions in the capital. "Woe to the complacent in Zion, lying on beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches, improvising to the music of the harp. Like David, they devise their own accompaniment". He's not pulling any punches. I mean, he's naming things pretty clearly here, isn't he? And those of us who, include myself who live a fairly comfortable life, do we find ourselves challenged by these words? Yeah, I do. I do. Let's face it.

Probably most people listening to me right now, we live pretty materially comfortable lives. Are we aware of those around us who are suffering from hunger, nakedness, homelessness? Are we like the complacent in Zion lying comfortably on our couches? And then Amos goes on. If you think, okay, that's enough critique for one moment. No, no. He goes on. "They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils. They are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph". So the first one, they drink wine from bowls. Just that image, not sipping from a little glass, but drinking wine from a bowl. It just seems a little bit decadent. Doesn't it? People that eat and drink too much. And let's be honest about it. That's true for a lot of us.

When there are people starving and many of us eat and drink too much. Anoint themselves with the best oils. How much money do we spend on our own self care? How dominant that is in our society today. Think of, just go in your medicine cabinet or go into your bathroom. How many little ointments and things like that do you have? Well, how important is that especially when there are a lot of people that are suffering? Then the last one we're probably going to miss it, but "they're not made ill by the collapse of Joseph". What he's talking about there is the collapse of Israel in the North. So here they are, the complacent in Zion and yet their own brothers are being invaded, overwhelmed, attacked, and they're doing nothing about it. They're so self preoccupied. So self indulgent. Are we aware of these great injustices?

As I record these words now war is all over the world. People being persecuted, people being killed, their homes blown to smithereens. I mean, am I aware of these outrages? As I stretch out comfortably on my couch, as I drink wine from bowls, as I anoint myself with the finest ointments. It's meant to bug us, everybody. This language is meant to bug us. Oh, I do enough. Well, do you, do you, or do you identify now with the people that Amos is describing? Well, this first reading is meant to tee up the gospel for today. Can I submit to you? It's one of those gospels. I first heard it as a kid. I don't know. When I first became aware of it, I probably was five or six. It's bugged me ever since. Every single time this gospel is declared or that I come across it or I hear about it, it bothers me.

I'm talking about the story of Lazarus and the rich man. We call it Lazarus and Dives sometimes. Dives is just Latin for rich man. Rich man isn't named and that's very interesting actually. In the ancient world who was named? Well, I mean, rich and powerful people, they're the ones that deserved to have their names mentioned. Who weren't mentioned? Well, the poor and the little people, the marginalized. Who cares? It's just some poor guy. That's all. I don't know that person's name. I'm not going to bother. I'm going to name the wealthy and the powerful. One of the very interesting reversals going on in the story is right there. The poor man's named, Lazarus. Everyone knows his name. The rich man, I don't know. I don't know his name. He's never named.

There's the revolutionary quality everybody of the Bible, turning our expectations upside down. How much do we care for those who are poor? Can we name them or are they for us as for ancient peoples, just kind of a nameless mass of suffering people? There's the first reversal. And we know this story well, right? Here's the rich man. Like the people that Amos excoriates, he's dining on sumptuous food and so on. And at his door, at his gate, lies Lazarus, poor, hungry, homeless, the dogs licking his wounds. And day after day, the rich man, more or less walks past him, walks over him in and out of his house. Lazarus long to fill his belly with the scraps that fell from the rich man's table.

Lazarus dies. He's taken, we here to the bosom of Abraham. That's the term they use for paradise, for heaven. The rich man dies and he's simply taken. It says to the underworld. He's buried. Again the reversal. Oh, you'd expect no, God, obviously has blessed the rich and the powerful. And he's cursed obviously those who are poor and hopeless. No, no, that's not the way the Bible imagines this situation. But Lazarus who's carried to paradise and the rich man who's carried downward. There's a clear parallel between this parable and Matthew 25. The other one, by the way, that from the time I was five years old has bugged me and bugs me to this day.

You know Matthew 25 and the last day when the sheep and the goats and one to my left, one to my right. Those who were saved, whatsoever you did to the least of my brothers, you did it to me. Those who are damned, when you saw the least of my brothers, you did nothing to feed them and to clothe them, to care for them. Tough stuff. Uh huh. Meant to put us on the hook. Yes. Meant to bother us as thoroughly as these words of Amos must have bothered the rich and complacent in Zion in his own day. Yes, absolutely. And you know everybody and I, because this I'm preaching to myself here as much as to you, I'm not even going to try to soften this or explain it away. We're not meant to. It's meant to be like a permanent, it's like that grit inside the oyster around which the Pearl is formed.

If there's some transformation, some conversion that will happen, some beautiful change, it might happen around the grit of stories such as these, it might happen around the grit of Amos's critique. As that bugs us, we build up the oyster perhaps of our own compassion. I've quoted this before, but I'm going to do it again. If you've heard it, I apologize but I think it's worth hearing again. This from Cardinal George, who was a mentor to me and he was gathered in Chicago with a group of donors. So really good people, wealthy people who had given a lot to the Church and he was there to thank them, which he sincerely did. And then he said this, "The poor need you to stay out of poverty, but you need the poor to stay out of hell".

That's not what people at those gatherings we're used to hearing, but it's a very good insight. Isn't it? So yeah, the wealthy among us, were there to care for the poor, but the poor benefit us in this measure that they call forth from us generosity. You know in the story of Lazarus now, when the rich man from his place in the underworld begs, begs Abraham, I mean just send someone to my brothers to warn them. The word comes back. They've got the prophets. In other words, people like Amos. I mean they knew these texts. They knew the prophets. And even if someone were to rise from the dead, they wouldn't listen. Well, of course we Christians know someone did rise from the dead, Jesus himself. Now the risen Christ for the last 2000 years has been this presence within our culture. Do we listen? Do we pay attention?

Let me close just really a couple of practical suggestions because I know you say, all right, all right, I'm convicted. I get it. I get it. I am like the rich man. I am like the complacent in Zion. So what can I do? Try everybody to make it as concrete as possible. Dorothy Day said that everythinga baptized Catholic does should be directly or indirectly related to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. Start with the corporal works of mercy, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, and there's seven of these works. Learn them and do indeed say every single day, am I doing something to realize these corporal works of mercy? Tithe, that means give 10% of your income every year. It's something helpful and objective about that.

If I make a million dollars a year, $100,000 should go to the poor. I make 100,000, 10,000 should go to the poor. It's a very concrete way to measure it. Keep money in your pockets for Lazarus at the gate. You know what I'm talking about. As I record these words in the studio in Santa Barbara, there are homeless people I know just blocks away from here. Do I blithely drive past them, walk past them all the time? Honestly yeah, I do. Am I judged by that? Mm-hmm. Money in your pockets to give to those who are immediately in need. Keeping a poor box by your door every time you leave the house, you put something in it for the poor. Try to adopt everybody, some concrete practice that makes real your commitment to the poor. Let Amos, the prophet and let this story of Lazarus bug you today. And God bless you.
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