Msgr. Joseph Prior

(See the readings for the Twenty-sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Sept. 25, 2022.)

“Who cares? We care!” was the theme of the Catholic Charities Appeal a few years ago. You might remember the billboards or other advertising seeking support for the appeal. The words capture the work of the Church in serving those in need. Catholic Charities and all the associations it assists are great examples.

St. Francis of Assisi is believed to have once said, “Preach the gospel and sometimes use words.” The work of caring for the poor and needy is an integral aspect of the life of the church, and she regularly lives this out.

We might consider all the food and clothing drives done by parishioners for the poor all over our area. It’s amazing when we think about all the soup kitchens, the Thanksgiving and Christmas drives, the work parishioners do in preparing meals for agencies such as “Caring for Friends,” the volunteering done by Catholics for larger organizations (both faith based and secular) who help the poor, all the work that is done for the homeless, and all the work our school children do in service activities. These are just the organized concerns. If you add all the individual acts of charity seen by few, I doubt that the work could ever be accurately quantified: it’s so large; and it goes on all the time.

“Who cares? We care!”

Reflecting on the Gospel passage for today’s liturgy led me to reflect on the generosity of the church and her love for the poor so wonderfully lived out in action. The passage recalls Jesus telling the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus was a poor person who used to beg at the door to the rich man’s estate. Jesus uses a graphic description of Lazarus’ destitution when he says: “Dogs even used to come and lick his sores,” and “he longed to eat even the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.”

The rich man did not do anything in life to help Lazarus. One particular detail that might easily be overlooked in the passage was that the rich man knew Lazarus by name. He not only saw him when he passed by, he knew who he was. He knew his plight. He did nothing. He ignored him.

After death, when from the netherworld the rich man looks up to see Lazarus at Abraham’s side, he begs for assistance which cannot be given as Abraham says: “My child, remember 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.”

When the rich man asks to be allowed to return to life to warn his brothers, Abraham replies: “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” After a further objection by the rich man, Abraham says: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

While Abraham’s prophecy is true – there are still so many who suffer from poverty in all its degrees both locally and universally – we cannot forget those who have heard the call and respond regularly and repeatedly. Other times in the Gospels, Jesus reminds us of how blessed are those who respond to the call. Once Jesus’ disciples told him that his family were outside looking for him. He replied to them: “My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and act on it” (cf. Lk 8:19-21). Another time a woman from a crowd cried out: “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied: “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Lk 11:27-28).

The call to serve the poor in love is rooted in the covenant with Israel. The prophets regularly called Israel to task for ignoring or, even worse, taking advantage of the poor.

The first reading for today’s liturgy from the Prophet Amos is an example. The reverse is true as well as when the care for the poor is extolled. For example, Proverbs 14:21: “Whoever despises the hungry comes up short, but happy the one who is kind to the poor!” or Psalm 41:1: “Blessed the one concerned for the poor, on a day of misfortune, the Lord delivers him.” Or from today’s responsorial psalm: “Blessed is he who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry” (Ps 146:7).

Jesus is the witness to God’s care and concern for the poor. He is the ultimate expression of “practicing what you preach.” This living witness is carried on today in the lives of the faithful who walk in his way. Each one of us is called to care for the poor as an act of love. Today we are encouraged to continue the ministry, to walk in the way of Christ, to respond to the needy who we encounter every day, and to care for the poor.

When the question “Who cares?” is asked, may our actions give the response “We care!”

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Msgr. Joseph Prior is pastor of Our Lady of Grace Parish, Penndel, and a former professor of Sacred Scripture and rector of St. Charles Borromeo Seminary.