Saint Vincent de Paul dedicated most of his life to helping the poor and suffering people of Paris. One might think that 356 years after his death there would be no more poverty and suffering in the world, and yet because of human selfishness and greed, poverty and suffering continue in so many forms even today. Saint Vincent followed the example of Christ in his caring for the poor and we should do the same.
The patience of Job is proverbial. Even his name has become synonymous with that virtue. Let’s remind ourselves of what Job said yesterday when tragedy first struck and later overwhelmed him: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”
But that was only his first response. It should also be the first response of all those who believe in God; it’s a statement of faith we make when pain is new, when the shock and the numbness shields us from the full measure of pain. But once that numbness subsides, people in pain begin a long journey towards healing, and even a long struggle with God. Sacred Scripture offers us no better model than Job.
For the middle 40 chapters of his story, Job argues with his friends who try to explain God’s Will to him. During that time, Job proves himself not a model of patience, but a very impatient man. But he is a model of persistence in questioning prayer. Today we hear his first complaint: “why was I born only to live and endure so much pain?”
“Why me?” has always been the cry of those who suffer. But it isn’t really a cry for explanation, for reasons just don’t satisfy. There are plenty of reasons for disease and death, for earthquakes and fires and car crashes and broken arms. Pain and suffering is simply part and parcel of being human. And should we forget that suffering is the common fate of human beings, the newspaper headlines and the evening news are never short of reminders. “Why me?” is rather a cry for understanding and for assurance that someone – that God – feels our pain and empathises with us.
We are here today because we believe that God does hear our prayers. And we gather in community: the wounded and the scarred together, to offer one another the support of our prayers and our expressions of care. Something which Saint Vincent de Paul did to great effect and whose example we should follow.
No matter who we are or what we do, most of us, even secretly, like to hear words of praise and appreciation. We like to be patted on the back and made a fuss of. And how many of us would actually turn away from a compliment rather than receive it—even if with a bit of embarrassment? There is something in the way we are made that makes us happy to be recognised for a job well done. Some people go out of their way to seek recognition. Only then does it become a problem when receiving recognition becomes our primary goal instead of knowing in our hearts that any job well done is meant to give glory to God.
Now, contrast the disciples in today’s gospel with the witness of our holy protector Saint Joseph. Here was a man who truly did welcome a child in God’s name—and with great humility and openness. And never once did Saint Joseph seek praise for his calling. Never once did he ask, “What’s in it for me?”
So how did he do it? Certainly not by human strength alone. Saint Joseph embraced not only God’s plan for his life but also the divine grace he needed to fulfil his vocation. Imagine being entrusted with the Son of God. Joseph must have spent hours and hours in prayer just to keep his heart and mind fixed on this awesome task.
What a lesson for us. Joseph was just an ordinary man, but he was able to do the thing God asked because he remained close to him. If Joseph had clung to his old plans for his life, or his old ways of thinking, he might never have been able to say yes to God.
Our Lord wants us all to answer God’s call with the same faith and trust that Saint Joseph had. It can seem difficult if not impossible when we look with human eyes—just as the disciples envisioned their calling in human terms of prestige and greatness. But if we hold firm to the truth that Our Lord is with us and wants to give us every grace to succeed in our vocation, then we can move mountains. God needs only an open heart and he will fill it to overflowing.
There is a very damning picture painted of the rich in today’s readings. The wealthy are enjoying lives of luxury, eating and drinking of the best, totally out of touch with real life, while people on the fringes of society are burdened with poverty. Time runs out for them, roles are suddenly reversed; poverty is changed to wealth, and riches to misery. But don’t get the idea that only the obscenely wealthy are being reprimanded. Remember that the people to whom Our Lord addressed this parable were very poor by our standards. Our Lord had a message for them just as he has a message for us today. This is a Gospel call to brotherly and fraternal care. If we truly love, then we will share our possessions; we will share our talents and our time with those who are marginalized. Greed gets to us because we are basically selfish; and greed, in all its forms, is something we have to fight against. The Gospel costs us our comforts because it makes inroads on our pockets and our wallets. And when our own interest is involved, self-deception is all too easy. We can always find an excuse not to be generous.
Tradition has given the rich man mentioned in the gospel today the name of Dives: now, he didn’t beat Lazarus and he was never deliberately cruel to him, nor did he deny him any food. What Dives didn’t do was to take notice of Lazarus or recognise him as his brother. This was his sin: he did nothing. How often is it our sin? Dives is cut off from God and suffers torment in Hades not for being rich, well fed and well dressed, but because he cut himself off from helping his brother. He ignored the poor man standing on his own doorstep, and closed his heart in the face of the human misery that confronted him every day. Lazarus provided Dives with a perfect opportunity to exercise charity, along with an opportunity to overcome selfishness and to attain eternal salvation. Our Lord’s parable also teaches us that Heaven is prepared for us while we are still on earth, during this life we live now.
The conversation between Dives and Abraham at the end of the gospel, where Dives asks to be allowed to convey a special message of warning to his five brothers, misses the point completely, because his brothers are also insensitive and uncaring. They have the words of scripture and the prophets to teach them, and that should be shock treatment enough.
In a sense we are the five brothers who are still alive. God’s message is there for us all to hear. The words of Our Lord, immortalised in scripture are addressed to us: “I tell you solemnly, in so far as you did it to one of the least of these brothers of mine you did it to me.” Those words are addressed to us. And so now is the acceptable time, now is the day of salvation. Not tomorrow or next week but today. We have heard the Word; we know what God’s will is for us: so how will we respond? Nobody is exempt from responsibility for the less fortunate members of society. We have obligations to the poor at home as well as the poor overseas. The little we have now we must share. If we choose to ignore the pleas of the orphan and the widow, the sick and the lonely, the hungry, the dispossessed, the refugee, then we will pay the price.
And so this is an opportunity to ask ourselves the question: what am I doing for the poor and needy? Do I spend all my money on myself or am I generous? Am I generous to the point of hurting myself? Do I take notice of the poor and the oppressed who are around me? Wherever we look there is sorrow to be comforted, there is need to be supplied, pain to be relieved. Do we realise that to have a job in the present economic climate is to be privileged? Are we conscious that the unemployed are the new oppressed in our society, part of the new belt of misery growing on the fringes of every town? The poor are a challenge. By our attitude we can show that people matter more than possessions. People are more precious for what they are, than the job they do, or the money they earn.
God is calling us to make ourselves shining examples of faith in these difficult times of growing injustice and self-seeking.
Today we celebrate the Memorial of Our Lady of Walsingham and we thank God for the intervention of his holy Mother in the life of the Church. Today we pray for our own nation, we pray for the church in England, for our community, for our parish, for our relatives, friends and benefactors, and we pray for those at the hour of their death. May Our Lady’s prayers always assist us as we draw ever closer to God’s Kingdom.
When we gaze up into the night sky, most of us see a bunch of stars and maybe a constellation or two, but an astronomer sees so much more. It’s not because he has sharper eyes, but because he has learned how to pay attention to the position of the stars, the swirls of the galaxies, the minutest of details.
Today, Our Lord urges his disciples to pay attention while he explains what is going to happen to him; he tells them that he will be arrested and crucified.
Even today, Our Lord asks us to pay attention and to be quiet. Saint Teresa of Calcutta used to say that it is easier to hear the Lord speak in silence. There is something about quiet places that helps us slow down and focus. This may mean getting up a few minutes earlier in the morning to spend some time in private prayer. It may mean taking a walk outside and enjoying the quietness of nature, something we have in glorious abundance on our own doorstep.
Quiet physical spaces are important, but let’s face it, even in a religious house, it’s not always possible. Even so, we can practice stilling our thoughts and turning to God throughout the day. We have the great opportunity to do that every time we enter this beautiful chapel.
Part of being quiet and still may mean simplifying our life a bit, or putting some aspects of our life in proper perspective. It’s all very well running here, there and everywhere, but simplicity and focus are the keys to developing the sharp eyes of the astronomer. They are what will help us see more than just a bunch of stars and instead, the endless constellations of divine grace available to us.
Today we honour the memory of Saint Pius of Pietrelcina. Like him we have all been called to holiness. It wasn’t because of the extraordinary things that characterised his life that Padre Pio was declared a saint; rather it was the day-in day-out fidelity of living the Christian life of discipleship that Padre Pio has become Saint Pio. We shouldn’t think that in order to be holy there must be some extraordinary manifestation of the supernatural in our life. Rather it’s by the daily fidelity to prayer, to the Mass and the sacraments, to our chosen way of life, to respect and love for our neighbours that we remain true disciples of Christ.
We often hear the first reading read at a funeral. The passage focuses on two big challenges of our lives. It reminds us that there will be seasons when we will endure trials, and seasons filled with joy. It even addresses the questions we often ponder about what God is trying to accomplish through us. How can our brief time on Earth possibly make a difference? To what effect is all of our toil?
A funeral gives us the opportunity to see how a single life has affected so many. A good eulogy examines the ups and downs of a person’s life, reflecting on the good that has come from it all. After a funeral, relatives and friends often share stories about how the deceased person has touched their lives and how his or her struggles taught them faith and perseverance. The puzzle comes together piece by piece as this person’s significance becomes clearer and clearer.
Now, of course, we don’t need to have a funeral in order to reflect on our lives or discover the impact that other people have had on us. We can do this any time we want. By being faithful to our prayer we become more reflective. By respecting other people we become more like God.
By taking the time to recognise the ways that we make a difference in other people’s lives may seem a touch selfish and prideful, but it’s a positive thing that we know how we are fulfilling God’s mission.
One of my earliest memories as a child is hearing my mother sing Doris Day’s smash hit “Que Sera, Sera” (Whatever will be, will be). It’s the same note the author of Ecclesiastes sounded as he contemplated the same old sameness of human existence.
Does anything new really happen? Some people feel as if they go through the same old routine, day after day. And yet we see new technologies and new discoveries all around us, but does anything really change? We may have the latest smartphone or the newest gadget filled car, but it doesn’t make a dent in who we are or how we relate to other people.
What the writer of Ecclesiastes couldn’t yet see, and we sometimes fail to see, is that there really is something new under the sun. Because of Our Lord’s resurrection, we can start each day in hope. We heard yesterday how Matthew’s life changed completely when Our Lord called him. In just the same way we are invited to live a new life with far wider horizons, a life that offers us greater and greater transformation into God’s image.
The resurrection does change everything. It’s not just an article of our faith; it’s a promise that can become the foundation of our hope and joy. It’s also something we can begin to experience here and now. We don’t have to wait for heaven.
The author of Ecclesiastes looked out on a bleak landscape and saw nothing worth getting excited about. All he saw was a meaningless, endless cycle of life and death, leading to nothing. That doesn’t have to be our vision. Today may look like every other Thursday of our life, but in God’s eyes, it’s brimming with potential. Every day brings new opportunities, because every day brings new challenges. Every day, there absolutely is something new under the sun.