At the door of Holy Rosary Church the poor knock from day to day. There is a constant flow of people with needs of all kinds. They are the poor who, as Jesus said, (Mat. 26: 17) are always with us. They are like the Lazarus of the narrative of the Gospel from St. Luke this Sunday (Luke 16: 19-39) who stand at the door of the rich man hoping for a morsel with which to calm the pangs of hunger. Today's poor cross all boundaries of race and sex and religion and they have one common denominator: Most of the times they suffer in their own flesh the tragic consequences of bad choices. Sometimes mental illness has taken its toll and people are just unable to put two and two together and live an ordinary life of responsibility, work, home, family. Some cases are indeed very tragic.
The poor live close to us, in our own streets, next to our own doors that we cannot escape them. Big cities like Houston have the problem of many other big cities. Thousands of people living on the streets, under bridges or in shelters protected sometimes from physical and verbal abuse. They can either call forth the best part of us or they can be ignored. In order to attend properly to the poor, to ease their struggle and improve their lot, we are invited not just to practice charity but to practice justice. Sometimes charity is just a band aid, a temporary solution. Justice, on the other hand, is a purposeful and well planned effort that tackles the structures of society that allows such endemic problems to subsist, again and again, year after year, and sometimes generation after generation.
The Gospel from Luke this Sunday about the rich man and the beggar lying at his door invites us to ask this pertinent question: Who are the Lazarus among us? At the risk of generalizing we may say that they are the children of this world who are dying each day from the conflicts of war and abuse. One only has to turn the television on and see the principal news of the day dealing with refugees, with war, with bombings of one side or the other, and families, especially women and children trying to escape war torn countries. Whether it is in Iraq or Syria or Afghanistan or Africa or the Middle East, we have never seen so many conflicts that continue to be unresolved from year to year. And the price humanity pays is more hunger, more misery, more poverty. And at times, evil makes its presence known even in a darker way with terror and death. The rich man of the parable was condemned not for being rich but for not being sensitive, for not caring about others.
Lazarus lives in the homeless veterans of so many wars who sleep on the streets of our cities. Lazarus is the mentally scarred for their ordeal. According to the Veterans Administration, on any given night, 275,000 veterans sleep on the street of our cities. Lazarus also lives in those who languish in our hospitals, convalescent and nursing homes, where no one visits. Lazarus lives in those who suffer from Alzheimer's, dementia, and all other diseases that rob people of their personalities.
If there is one thing clear in the Gospels it is the fact that Jesus, whom we follow as disciples, took the initiative in reaching out to the foreigners, the sick, the sinners, the criminals, the disconnected from society. We are invited to do the same. At times, we may feel tempted to turn our individual and collective backs. But again, as Jesus said, the poor are always there, challenging our lives, our beliefs, our mediocrity, our categories. St. Vincent de Paul (1581-1660) and Frederic Ozanam (1813-1859) a Catholic layman, Founder of the Conferences of St. Vincent de Paul, to alleviate in some way the needs of the poor who come to us, give us an example of true Christian concern. They are all God's children, regardless of their disguises. We are invited to give to others their dignity, respect, a smile, a kind word, even if we cannot give them all they ask. Last week, members of the St. Vincent de Paul conference, who try to alleviate the plight of the poor here at Holy Rosary, invited the community of faith to volunteer for this ministry. I hope you were able to have a listening heart to their message. We know many of you already do, most generously.
To visit the sick, to feed the hungry, to welcome the stranger, to treat the alien and immigrant with respect, may be the prelude to abundant graces from God on us individually and as a community. If God cannot act through us and recognize the Lazarus who lives among us, then who will? As we do, we pray God will also recognize us at the end of our life.
May God's peace be with you,