Monday, September 30, 2013

God Knows the Poor By Name

"And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus..." (Luke 16:20)

Do we let our possessions possess us? Back in the 90s there was a superb movie called  "Heat" that stared Robert Deniro and Al Pacino.  Don't recommend it for younger viewers but Deniro's character, who was a criminal, kept saying throughout the movie: "Don't let yourself get attached to anything you are not willing to walk out on in 30 seconds flat if you feel the heat around the corner."  He had this philosophy for criminal purposes, but let's flip this and apply it to today's gospel particularly when it comes to possessions.  The rich man in the gospel is so wrapped up in his lifestyle, in his wealth, and in just simply being rich that he ignores the poor man at his door step and forgets the words of Moses and the prophets.  The poor man actually has a name: Lazurus.  Once again we see God's preferential option for the poor.  The rich man has lost his way.  He become a nameless rich face.  We know these people: "that guy who drives the Ferrari or that lady with the expensive purses and fancy jewelry."  Many of these people are so attached to their possessions that they are defined by them.  Which begs the question posed in the movie: would we willingly leave all our possessions behind if we had to? My parents and grandparents had to do this when they left Cuba with so many others.  All they needed was God and family. But sometimes I wonder if I could just willingly leave everything behind.  As priests, we are transient in nature.  We're always moving, and every time I move I come to the realization that I have too many things.  Way too much stuff.  Now I wouldn't call myself a pack rat, but I hold on to mementos and gifts giving to me over the years by parishioners.  Just the other day I was in my office with a staff member hanging up a gift given to me by my youth group and I looked at the walls and shelves of my office and uttered with a little bit of disdain: "Look at all this stuff."  Now every single one of those frames, pictures, and mementos tells a story and recalls some beautiful memories and I wouldn't throw them out.  I always pack them when I move (don't worry, I'm not moving anywhere), but could I live without them?  I mentioned to the staff member how I really admired Pope Francis who basically left all his belongings behind in Argentina when elected pope. Bishop Roman's room was extremely simple with just a few books, a rocking chair, and his small bed.  Two men of great simplicity who drew closer to God because they were not attached to the things of this world.

Speaking of Pope Francis, this morning in his homily, he had this to say about the rich man in the gospel: "Whenever material things, money, worldliness, become the center of our lives, they take hold of us, they possess us; we lose our very identity as human beings...material things, his possessions, are his face; he has nothing else...this is what happens when we no longer remember God.  If we don't think about God, everything ends up being about 'me' and my comfort."  The rich man has no face yet the poor man has a name, Lazurus, and when he dies he is carried up by angels to the bosom of Abraham. He had no attachments.  He had nothing to leave behind.  He was ready to receive his eternal reward.  So close is our God to those who are poor, who have nothing, who suffer at the feet of the wealthy and powerful.  Material things aren't bad in and of themselves.  It's how we let them run our lives that can get it us into trouble. If they get in the way of our relationship with God, we start to forget that we are his children, created in his image and likeness, and that he calls each and every one of us by name to share his eternal joy.