Saturday, September 25, 2010

Almsgiving is necessary for salvation

26th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Luke 16:19-31
“My child, remember that 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.”
As we consider the parable in today’s Gospel text, we are struck by the reality and the real possibility of hell. Not only is hell real, it is something that could befall any of us. Let me explain.
Even if we are among the few who actually believe that hell exists, there is still a great temptation to reserve damnation for only the most hardened criminals, those guilty of hideous and unspeakable crimes – murderers, child molesters, war criminals, etc. Only these select few, who are characterized as being so evil as to have nearly lost their humanity, only these will go to hell. And then we are confronted with today’s Gospel.

The Rich Man
It strikes me that we know almost nothing about Dives, the rich man. Perhaps we assume that he is wicked and heartless, but this is not said explicitly. All we know is that he was rich and Lazarus was poor. Perhaps the rich man had a family, perhaps he was a good father and husband. Perhaps he went to the synagogue every week and was an upstanding member of his community. What is more, we have no reason to think that the rich man did not help the poor! He may have given to other poor people, he may have contributed to the local food bank (or equivalent thereof), he may have had a habit of giving a little something to many who were in need – he may have even tithed. We really don’t know.
What we do know is this: whatever else that rich man did in his life, he did not help Lazarus when he was in need. Perhaps he helped others, but he did not give alms to this particular poor man – this alone lead to his eternal damnation. This one sin – that he rejected a single poor person when he had wealth left over – this cries out to heaven. When even a single person who begs from us remains poor, to be rich is a mortal sin. A sin which will hurl us into hell.
The rich and the poor today
Has anything changed in 2000 years? Perhaps this: if the rich man ignored Lazarus and deprived him of his necessities, at least he allowed him to sit and beg. In our world today, the presence of a poor man begging at our door would most likely lead us to call the police and have him taken away. If the rich man ignored the cry of the poor, we live in a society which systematically suffocates the poor man’s cry!
Some day we will all understand what Jesus really meant when he said, “Blessed are you poor, but woe to you who are rich!” Without almsgiving, how shall we ever inherit life everlasting?

John Paul II (encyclical letter Centesimus Annus, 1991): “It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as a people – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I know that this entry is a bit different than most of my "Thomistic Scriptural Commentary" articles. Of course, a part of any good medievalist commentary is the tropological or moral sense of Scripture. Here I have attempted to work for a conversion of the will more than the intellect (since I have worked on the intellect pretty much every other time). This post is very similar to the homily I preached this weekend.
Next week, I will be returning to the more dogmatic style of commentary.

Anonymous said...

"Has anything changed in 2000 years? Perhaps this: if the rich man ignored Lazarus and deprived him of his necessities, at least he allowed him to sit and beg. In our world today, the presence of a poor man begging at our door would most likely lead us to call the police and have him taken away. If the rich man ignored the cry of the poor, we live in a society which systematically suffocates the poor man’s cry!"

Actually, there are no poor people in America. Poor is a relative term. Have you ever been to a country where REAL poor people live? They don't have: a car, air conditioning, a refrigerator, access to healthcare, a roof over their heads, etc. heck, many of them don't even have clothing or food, or shelter. We don't have that in America. So what in blazes are you talking about? Sure, there are people who make horribly stupid decisions and so are condemned by the inevitable results to "poverty" American style! Furthermore, big govt spender do gooder bleeding hearts will good intention these "poor" "homeless" etc, to death and give them money for their indolence and crimes. America is different from all other places because we have OPPORTUNITY, not had in other countries. Even a sharecropper's son, a guy who didn't have shoes as a kid, and barely could scrabble enough out of the land for food, can become a Supreme Court Justice....Clarence Thomas!

Paul, Stillwater MN

Poor in America? That's a laugh!

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Paul (Anonymous; Sep 27, 1:17am),
You seem to be carrying some serious baggage into this discussion...
I am not a "bleeding heart", nor am I in favor of "big govt", I don't plan on rewarding the "indolence and crimes" of the poor.
I have been to countries "where REAL poor people live" -- El Salvador, for example. I lived in Rome for several years and saw the gypsies, who are incredibly poor.

"So," [in your own words] "what in the blazes are you talking about?" Why have you made such severe judgments against me? Perhaps you feel threatened by something I have written? Might that be the Holy Spirit, or your conscience? Normally people don't make comments in a state of near-hysteria...something to think about.

Do you really think that the poor are all "people who make horribly stupid decisions"? That is a very harsh judgment against the mentally disabled (who make up a huge percentage of the poor in America). Personally I don't think that America's poor are "a laugh"...I'm very sorry to hear that you do. To laugh at the poor is a blasphemy, a sin which cries out to heaven for vengeance. You should pray about that...

I have to say that your comment is a perfect example of that "suffocation" which I wrote about (and which you think is bizarre). You scream against them: "You ARE NOT poor!" You shout them down. You hate them. And then you turn to shout down and hate those who would defend the poor.
I find you to be bizarre...and sad. Why don't you re-read Pope John Paul II's comment at the end of the post?

What a funny idea you have, to scream: "You are not as poor as so and so!" I suppose the greedy have been saying this one for many years. Then again, you are probably not as greedy as some people...Maybe some day you will get to experience "poverty American style!" I hope that you find it as enjoyable and laughable as you have envisioned it to be.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I'm sorry, but I had to delete your two recent posts. They were far too aggressive and hateful for this blog.
I will be happy to delete your earlier one (and my previous response) if you would like.
Or feel free to make another comment in response...but you cannot make those personal attacks.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I will include your recommendation of the "Acton Institute". I believe that they are doing some very good work. Certainly there is room for various opinions, but what they have to say is very useful and intelligent.
Plus, I happen to be friends with some of the founders.

oops! So much for your assumptions about my "big govt", left wing, "bleeding-heart" politics! It is true what they say happens when you assume...

I don't know where this politics and social justice stuff got started anyways...all I ever talked about was individuals helping individuals...I certainly wouldn't start promoting policies from the pulpit (or Clerical blog).

I would bet that I am as much against the liberal agenda as you...I hate the way that they have hijacked charity and called it "social activism"...stolen mission work and made it "poverty tourism"...there is no evil in the world more dangerous to society than socialism. But greedy cold-hearted Catholics who reject Catholic social teaching, they profane the Gospel...

To readers: do take a look at The Acton Institute has some great commentary about Catholic Social Doctrine, Capitalism, and modern American society! PLUS, its very conservative!

Anonymous said...

Ugh....that's okay, delete what you wish and remain untouchable. Again I understand that you dislike contrary arguments. Sadly you will never learn or grow. Let's face it, you are the one who started with the personal attacks and ad hominem aggressiveness. You accuse exactly of what you are guilty. Interesting. Re-read my original post. Distinguo. I am tired of the false charity from clerics in America for the "poor" here, to the destruction of families and society. You might benefit from some deeper reflection that the roads in hell are paved with such as the past 100 years of "good intentions."

Paul, Stillwater

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Ok Paul,
I think you have made your point, and you've made it abundantly clear that you do not think there are poor people in America.
That seems to be the only real argument you have to make...beyond thinking that no priest knows anything about economics or poverty, and that every priest who speaks about poverty has to be a big govt democrat...

All I ever said was that individual rich people should help individual poor people...I don't know that that has paved a "road to hell"...I have never and will never talk about welfare or govt handouts or even healthcare -- not that I don't think these are important issues, but I highly doubt the appropriateness of a cleric speaking about such political and social issues. These are things that lay people (whose charism is secularity) should figure out -- like what is happening at the Acton Institute.

You think there are no think that the "poor" are criminals and idiots who deserve what they get...
I think that there are some people in the USA who are poor...I know from personal experience...most of the time they have mental problems...other times they have problems with addictions...most of the time they have made poor decisions. But I don't want anybody freezing to death in the winter time...I don't want their children loosing all their teeth...
But you're right, those children aren't really THAT poor...I guess that will sooth some people's consciences...
you call it distinguishing, I call it rationalizing (it doesn't change the truth, even if you use the Latin word)...

Wild Bill said...

Fr. Reginaldus, "has anything changed in 2000 years?" Yes, we hear the cry of the poor at least twice a week in urgent letters from Food for the Poor, Feed the Children, and the missionary orders. I actually tried it for a while with small gifts of $5 - $20 and what I got for my trouble was more letters. One guy can't help them all! I hear the cry of the poor but to answer it, I give to my Archbishop's Appeal. It's not direct from me to a poor person but it's the best I can do.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Wild Bill,

Thank you for such an honest comment! The desire to do good is itself a great gift from the Lord...surely he will bring the good work to fulfillment!

You bring up a very good point: it is often difficult to assist the poor through institutions...
I don't know for sure what the answer is to this problem...I am only a priest, not a socio-political analyst. But I do know that we can help the individual poor people we meet very easily...

I agree with you that the Archbishop's Appeal is a good way to go.

Personally, I have given up on trying to cure world poverty; I don't even hold out much hope for helping any single individual to get out of poverty...I can only offer particular acts of kindness to those who request my help...perhaps it doesn't seem like much, perhaps it is a "waste" of money; but it is the best I can do...and I have to do something.

Obviously we have a great need for good solid Catholic lay men and women to get involved in politics. They can help to direct our nation in a way which is faithful to the Gospel and also practical enough to actually work.

But you and I can help this or that Lazarus in a spirit of supernatural charity...and this will gain us life everlasting!

Bernardus said...

Dear Fr. Reginaldus,
I've heard and read this Gospel many times as in this past Sunday. I don't think I recall anytime in which it gave me pause until reading your brief discourse. It caused me to rethink God's word, to reread God's word prayerfully. As you state, we know nothing of the rich man's life or background and likely he may have been a good man as you outlined. But when you mentioned mortal sin I had to say to myself why? I overlooked the gravity of the rich man's act. He deliberately ignored the poor man's plight. I, perhaps like many in pews on Sunday, never have been taught clearly that one point in this Gospel. I went to the CCC and read #1854-1864.
I will be first to admit I am more ignorant (without excuse) than knowledgeable of Holy Church's teachings. Perhaps you could graciously expand on the Church's teachings with respect to mortal sin referencing this Gospel.
I pray that God continue to bless you with Holiness. And may the Love of Jesus Christ reign in your heart.

Ernie Bragiel

Anonymous said...

It may be that in this life, Dives JUST DID NOT SEE Lazarus. To Dives, Lazarus lying near his gate seemed to be part of the scenery. Are there people whom I should be helping that I don't perceive because they are always there?

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Ernie Bragiel,
Praise the Lord! I am very happy to hear that He has spoken to you in a new way through this Gospel parable and through the Catechism.
At some point, I will try to get an article together about the paragraphs in the Catechism you referenced, mortal sin, and this Gospel...I cannot promise when, but I will try...
Also, take a look at an earlier article: "Stealing from the Poor". In addition, "Is private property natural?"
Both of these deal with issues of poverty and riches, and the question of mortal sin.

Thank you for your prayers. I look forward to any future comments you may have! Blessings in Christ!

@TeaPot562, I think you have hit on a very good point there...Admitting our blindness, the Lord will one day make us to see!

Unknown said...

I think we should keep in mind the traditional teaching of the manuals when it comes to almsgiving as many of the instances you will come into contact in our own world will be of this type.

You are never obligated to give anything to someone who is not in dire need. Many of the homeless and panhandlers in our own country are alcoholics, drug addicts, etc. One is never obligated to give such people money, regardless of the sob story the might give you. Its one of those things you need to discern on a case to case basis.

A valid point is made that many of our "poor" are really not poor. They may not have as much as many other people in the country, but they have what they need.

That is why I think almsgiving is best done through some sort of institution. Give to a good Catholic organization that does good work amongst the poor in this country or in Third World lands.

We must also avoid the error of thinking we can make the rich be charitable. Redistribution of the wealth is not something we should take on. We should personally do what we can, but we cannot force people to do good whether they are rich or poor. The rich have a great responsibility with their funds to be charitable with their less well endowed brethren. However, it is no sin to be rich. They have a beautiful opportunity to properly support their churches and be patrons to the arts to glorify God, they also have the privilege of honoring God through magnanimity, which many of us will never really have.

susan lennox said...

I often feel like I am in a dilemma concerning giving. I am not catholic, by the way.! It seems like every pastor, on TV and in church, always asks for money for this and that project. They even say that if you don't give, then your money is cursed. I definitely believe in giving, but I sure hate all the begging for money. The other day a thought came to my mind...what if the Holy Spirit told us each month, with whom we were to share! I do know that the local building where we meet , cannot pay for electricity etc, if we do not give. People which I ponder on are St Francis, Martin Luther and George Mueller.

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