My dear brothers and sisters in Christ
Grace and Peace to you in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit on this beautiful Sabbath eve/day. One of my favorite things to do on my day off is go camping. When I was growing up, my parents had a small Winnebago that my family would pile in to take weekend getaways with friends and escape the telephone, television, and other complications of life in order to focus on building our own little community. My parents would sleep in the camper but one mark of getting older and more mature was being able to sleep in a tent next to the camper. One of the first major purchases I made shortly after I was ordained was to buy a small pop-up camper, sort of a tent on wheels. I have since purchased a slightly larger one with hard sides but I still feel like it’s important to feel like I’m sleeping in a tent so the area I sleep in is actually made of tent like material. But, my reasoning why is slightly different than when I was a kid.
One of the things I experienced in Israel was what the Jewish festival of Sukkoth. Sukkoth is a religious feast in which the Jewish people sleep outside in makeshift tents made of bamboo rods and palm branches to remind themselves of what it was like for their ancestors wandering in the desert. They’re not supposed to have electricity or telephones. They’re even supposed to leave one side of the tent open so that they have to experience nature fully. It’s literally supposed to be roughing it.
Our readings today seem both particularly apt and particularly challenging to us this weekend. All three in their own ways warn of the challenges of living a good life. In the first reading, we heard that the people who have such a luxurious life that they can sleep on couches with ivory decorations, who feast on the animals that should be reserved for sacrifice, will be the first ones sent into the struggle of living in exile. It’s this same reversal that happens to the rich man in the gospel today. To quote the statement of heavenly Abraham, “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.” Part of what is being told here is a principle of Catholic social justice called Preferential Option for the Poor. This concept says that, as Catholics, we need to make sure that those on the margins of society, those who often have no voice, are taken care of. We need to do this both on the parish level and on the personal level. In other words, even though each of our parishes supports the less fortunate in one way or another, each of us as individuals need to make sure we aren’t stepping over the poor at our door on the way to other things. We need to give preference to feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, and clothing the naked before we worry about having a second car or having the latest piece of technology and we need to make sure our Government also takes care of the poor.
But another part that is challenging us today as Catholics is that we shouldn’t become so comfortable in our lives that we forget where we came from. Many of you don’t know that there was an entire political party in this country known as the “No Nothing Party” built on the notion that Catholics shouldn’t be allowed here because, if we are, the pope will try to take control. Some of you remember the remnants of this attitude that President John F. Kennedy had to deal with when he was elected. In some ways, we have not only forgotten what it was like for our German, Irish, and Czech ancestors to come to this country when that attitude was prevalent, but now we’ve moved from being the persecuted to being the persecutors. I hear a lot of people who speak poorly of Mexican immigrants because they speak a different language and have different traditions. Have we become so comfortable as Catholics in this country that we’ve forgotten how our Grandparents and Great grandparents spoke a foreign language and made strange smelling food? Have we become so much like the rich man in the comfort of our houses that we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be Lazarus? Maybe it’s time we rough it for a while to remind outselves.