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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Can't Keep Closing Our Eyes
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
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“The poor are where God lives. God is in the slums in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is where the opportunity is lost and lives are shattered. God is with the mother who has infected her child with a virus that will take both their lives. God is under the rubble in the cries we hear during wartime. God, my friends, is with the poor, and God is with us if we are with them.”

This stirring declaration was made by an unlikely prophet, the Irish-born rock star Bono, of U2. His long-standing commitment to end AIDS in Africa and bring about an end to global poverty has given him an insight that can be rare in the world of celebrity, privilege, and wealth.

The words of the prophet Amos remind us that this has long been a problem in human society. Words of contemporary prophets remind us that the problem continues unabated.

Today’s parable of the rich man (sometimes called Dives) and Lazarus is a familiar story, perhaps so much so that it’s lost its cutting edge. The rich man neglects the poor beggar at his door; they both die; one goes to heaven, the other goes to hell; their roles are reversed. The rich man is now the beggar, pleading for just a drop of water to quench his thirst.

This is the stuff of classic fairy tales and myths. We respond with a deep-seated recognition of our desire to see bad people punished and good people rewarded, even if it happens only in the afterlife. Too often, however, we fail to see ourselves in the person of the callous rich man.

We don’t like to admit it, but we know we’re often indifferent to people who are suffering from poverty, hunger, and disease. It might not be as close as a beggar at our front door, someone we literally step over to go to work. But it might be. And our discomfort is more often for our own safety than any empathy for the homeless.

We’ve become numb to news stories of genocide, drought, and starvation in the developing world. We’re momentarily shocked by gang rape in places like India, but we make excuses for rapes on our own college campuses.

The best among us take an active role in these situations, working on the ground to bring an end to suffering and oppression. Some of us donate time, money and a collective voice lobbying in the halls of power. We occasionally feel guilty that we have so much when others have barely enough to survive—when we can tear our attention away from the many distractions of our lives. But there will always be those who blame the victims and side with the oppressors.

The prophets demand that we stay aware of injustice, even when we’d rather not, until we feel compelled to do something about it. The ironic words at the end of Jesus’s parable should bring us up short. The rich man has asked that Lazarus be sent to his five brothers to warn them to change their lives and avoid his fate. Abraham tells him: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

We have heard the words of the Risen One. Are we persuaded? And if we are, what are we going to do about it?


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Philip Neri: Philip Neri was a sign of contradiction, combining popularity with piety against the background of a corrupt Rome and a disinterested clergy, the whole post-Renaissance malaise. 
<p>At an early age, he abandoned the chance to become a businessman, moved to Rome from Florence and devoted his life and individuality to God. After three years of philosophy and theology studies, he gave up any thought of ordination. The next 13 years were spent in a vocation unusual at the time—that of a layperson actively engaged in prayer and the apostolate. </p><p>As the Council of Trent (1545-63) was reforming the Church on a doctrinal level, Philip’s appealing personality was winning him friends from all levels of society, from beggars to cardinals. He rapidly gathered around himself a group of laypersons won over by his audacious spirituality. Initially they met as an informal prayer and discussion group, and also served poor people in Rome. </p><p>At the urging of his confessor, he was ordained a priest and soon became an outstanding confessor, gifted with the knack of piercing the pretenses and illusions of others, though always in a charitable manner and often with a joke. He arranged talks, discussions and prayers for his penitents in a room above the church. He sometimes led “excursions” to other churches, often with music and a picnic on the way. </p><p>Some of his followers became priests and lived together in community. This was the beginning of the Oratory, the religious institute he founded. A feature of their life was a daily afternoon service of four informal talks, with vernacular hymns and prayers. Giovanni Palestrina was one of Philip’s followers, and composed music for the services. </p><p>The Oratory was finally approved after suffering through a period of accusations of being an assembly of heretics, where laypersons preached and sang vernacular hymns! (Cardinal Newman founded the first English-speaking house of the Oratory three centuries later.) </p><p>Philip’s advice was sought by many of the prominent figures of his day. He is one of the influential figures of the Counter-Reformation, mainly for converting to personal holiness many of the influential people within the Church itself. His characteristic virtues were humility and gaiety.</p> American Catholic Blog We need do no more than we are doing at present; that is, to love divine Providence and abandon ourselves in his arms and heart.<br />—St. Padre Pio

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