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Don't ignore the Lazarus just over 'the wall'

Archbishop Wenski's homily at Mass with Redemptoris Mater seminarians

Archbishop Thomas Wenski preached this homily March 21, 2019, at Redemptoris Mater Seminary in Hialeah, where he instituted a new acolyte during evening Mass with the seminarians.

As I was reflecting on this Gospel parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, I remember Pope Francis’ Lenten message of 2017.  In meditating on this parable, he made three points.

First, other persons are a gift. The rich man failed to even notice Lazarus on his doorstep much less to recognize his “giftedness” as a person, as a human being. Each life we encounter – whether we are talking about the unborn, the frail elderly, the immigrant, the homeless or that annoying “church” lady or prickly pastor – each life we encounter deserves acceptance, respect and love. So, this means opening the doors to all in need, recognizing the face of Christ in each of them.

The second point, sin blinds us. The rich man doesn’t see Lazarus – he doesn’t see the poor man because he is blinded by his wealth, his vanity and his pride. Those same things can and do blind us. On Ash Wednesday, when they put the ashes on our heads, we might have heard: Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return. Death is a great equalizer – as they say, you can’t take it with you.

The third point the Pope makes is that the rich man’s fundamental problem is that he failed to heed God’s word. “If they won’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead.” If we close our hearts to the gift of God’s word, we end up closing our hearts to the gift of our brothers and sisters.

Now let me put this parable of Lazarus and the rich man into the context of our country’s debate on immigration. Have we as a nation – a nation otherwise known for its generosity – become the rich man of the parable? I remember when I worked with the Haitians I often had to bury boat people who washed up dead on the beaches of South Florida. A dead Haitian refugee lying on the beach in front of multi-million-dollar condos seemed to me to be a modern-day incarnation of Lazarus.

Of course, this is to take an example from 30 years ago. But Lazarus is still outside our doors, or just on the other side of the border, the other side of the “wall” and even our next-door neighbor – and like the rich man of the parable we refuse to recognize “the giftedness” of his person. Rather than acceptance, respect and love, the so called “illegal” finds today – especially on what passes for debate on cable TV and radio shows – rejection, disrespect and fear, if not hatred.

Again, Pope Francis in that Lenten Message offers us three points to guide us through Lent – and three points to guide us through the heated debates about immigration reform.

  1. Recognize other persons as gifts
  2. Do not allow money, vanity or pride to blind you
  3. Heed God’s word.

In a message for a World Peace Day some years ago, Pope St. John Paul II wrote: “...How can we exclude anyone from our care? Rather we must recognize Christ in the poorest and the most marginalized, those whom the Eucharist – which is communion in the Body and Blood of Christ given up for us – commits us to serve. As the parable of the rich man, who will remain forever without a name, and the poor man called Lazarus clearly shows, ‘in the stark contrast between the insensitive rich man and the poor in need of everything, God is on the latter’s side.’ We too must be on this same side.”

However, if we don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, if we listen to the talking heads on cable TV channels more than to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, we won’t be convinced even if someone should rise from the dead.

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