30 September 2007

Homily - 30 September 2007

Today we welcomed home two daughters of the parish celebrating their Golden Jubilee as School Sisters of Notre Dame. This presented quite a challenge in finding a way to relate the parable of Lazarus and the rich man with the anniversary of a religious profession, but I think it works out rather well. The Sisters, at any rate, were pleased.

What is it about the rich man that we detest so much? Why are repulsed by the thought of him? It is surely not because of anything he has done, but because of what he has not done. Lazarus, the poor man, lies dying on his doorstep and he does not even drop a morsel to help him.

In his complacency, the rich man will not allow his heart to be moved with love, with sympathy, with compassion; he does not even pity the poor man. The rich man does not recognize Lazarus as a human being and he does not even treat him as a dog. Simply recall Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman: “Please, Lord,” she said, “even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table” (Matthew ). While the rich man lifts not a finger to care for Lazarus, the dogs come and care for him as one of their own.

The rich man is “an empty-hearted man in this world, and … his carousing was only an attempt to smother this interior emptiness. The next life only brings to light the truth already present in this life.”[1]

This is the rich man’s reality. He sees no purpose, no meaning, no direction for his life. He goes from day to day feeling empty, lonely, sad; yet he is too proud to admit it. His real fault is his pride and for his pride he is tormented.

In his pride he refuses to love the man dying before his eyes and he turns instead to a life of revelry – of drinking, food, and games – to satiate the longings of his heart. He seeks the fulfillment of his desire not in God, but in the things of this world. This is what separates the rich man from the poor man.

Throughout the Psalms, the poor man continually cries out to God. The poor man prays:

For I was envious of the arrogant, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pangs; their bodies are sound and sleek. They are not in trouble as other men are; they are not stricken like other men. Therefore pride is their necklace… Their eyes swell out with fatness… They set their mouths against the heavens… Therefore the people turn and praise them; and find no fault in them. And they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High” (Psalm 73:3-11)?
Is this not the question each of us asks from time to time? Why do the just who are poor suffer and the rich who are wicked thrive? Does God not notice? Does he not pay attention? Does he not care?

But the more the poor man ponders these questions the more he comes to a turning point. “The suffering just man in the Sanctuary looks toward God and, as he does so, his perspective becomes broader. Now he sees that the seeming cleverness of the successful cynics is stupidity when viewed against the light.”[2]

The poor man no longer looks upon the rich with envy, but with pity. He prays:

May their belly be filled with good things; may their children have more than enough… As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with beholding your form” (Psalm 77:14f).
“Two sorts of satisfaction are contrasted here: being satiated with material goods, and satisfaction with beholding [the face of God] – the heart becoming sated by the encounter with infinite love. The words ‘when I awake’ are at the deepest level a reference to the awakening into new and eternal life, but they also speak of a deeper ‘awakening’ here in this world: Man wakes up to the truth in a way that gives him a new satisfaction here and now.”[3]

It was this encounter with infinite love that led Caroline Gerhardinger to embrace the call of the Lord to devote herself to the education of the poorest of the poor through her congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame. In Bavaria in 1833 she, and two other women, consecrated themselves to Christ, vowing a life of poverty to teach the poor, taking the new name of Mary Theresa of Jesus.

It was this same encounter with infinite love that led Sister Barbara Habing, S.S.N.D. and Sister Mary Christine Spour, S.S.N.D. to follow the example of Blessed Mary Theresa of Jesus.

Sister Barbara and Sister Mary Christine, we welcome you home with great joy! We are grateful to and to the Lord Jesus Christ for your fifty years of service to God and man as School Sisters of Notre Dame! Through your dedicated witness, together with your Sisters in Christ, you shine for us as a beacon of hope and illuminate for us the path to Christ, who is the fulfillment of all desire.

Through your loving service in so many places and in varied ways, you have witnessed to the world of the love of Christ Jesus for the poor, both materially and spiritually. Your fidelity to the vows you took fifty years ago reminds each of us that commitments can be made and can be kept. Your presence among us today says very clearly that if we rely upon the grace of God he will help us keep our commitments and that a “life dedicated to God is never spent in vain.”[4]

As I thank you for your generous service, dear Sisters, I ask you to allow me to a say a brief word to the young people present with us today.

My dear young friends, these Sisters who celebrated today their Golden Jubilee are an invitation to each of us to give our lives to Christ so that we might be fully satisfied. The Lord Jesus, in his infinite mercy and love, desires to fulfill the longings of our hearts if we only we follow his will for our lives. Some of you here today the Lord is calling to follow him and serve him as consecrated men or women religious, as deacons or as priests; others he calls to serve him as faithful husbands and wives.

If we are to be faithful to his call and truly be satisfied, we must, with the fully man, behold the face of God. This we know, yet too often we shy away from Christ, thinking him too demanding.

If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? … No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. And so, today, with great strength and conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ - and you will find true life. Amen.[5]
[1] Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, trans. Adrian J. Walker (New York: Doubleday, 2007), 215.
[2] Ibid., 213.
[3] Ibid., 214.
[4] Pope Benedict XVI, Prayer Vigil with Young People, 1 September 2007.
[5] Pope Benedict XVI, Inaugural Homily, 24 April 2005.


  1. Anonymous10:26 PM

    I can't find your quote "may their belly be filled with good things; may their children have more than enough" anywhere in my Bible, certainly not in Psalm 77. Would you please say where it is?

  2. Thank you for your question; you have found a typographical error in my text.

    The correct citation for that particular passage should be Psalm 17:14-15).

    My apologies.

  3. Anonymous6:15 AM

    Thank you very much for clarifying! It is such a powerful and convicting verse, when I first read it I wanted to see the entire text and was sent scrambling when I couldn't find it. Probably won't hear this as financial advise for the new year!