26th Sunday: The Responsible Catholic
“Woe to the complacent in Zion, who enjoy a luxurious life but do nothing about the collapse of Joseph.” What is the prophet Amos speaking about in today’s first reading? What does he mean by the complacent in Zion? The word complacent is defined as smug and uncritically satisfied with oneself or one’s achievements. The complacent in Zion enjoyed their lives and were only concerned with themselves. They were like the rich man of the parable in today’s Gospel. He enjoyed his life, but he was completely detached from the needs of anyone else. He saw the poor beggar, Lazarus, at his door, but he did not even consider the man’s plight. He did not recognize the responsibility he had towards anyone.....else.
Amos accuses the complacent in Zion of doing nothing about the collapse of Joseph. The Joseph he is referring to here is not Joseph, Jesus’s foster father. That Joseph would not be born for another 700 years. Nor is the Joseph referring directly to Jacob’s son Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers. No, Joseph here refers to that group of the Hebrew people who trace their lineage through the Patriarch Joseph. By the time of Amos the Northern Kingdom was often referred to as Israel, Ephraim or Joseph. The complacent in Zion are all the Hebrews who do not care what is happening to their fellow Hebrews as a nation or as individuals. They are like the people who saw what Mussolini and the fascists were doing in Italy and what Hitler and the Nazis were doing in Germany, and did not care what their countrymen were suffering nor the direction their country was going as long as they could keep their luxuries. They are us when we are not concerned about our national disgraces of abortion, and legalized sexual promiscuity, as well as when we are indifferent to attacks against the poorest people in the country, the plight of the homeless, the concerns of the mentally and physically challenged, etc.
That being said, I want to assure you that I have not experienced this type of complacency in my years as pastor here at St. Ignatius. Most of the members of our parish are not complacent. Most Catholics are not complacent. They don’t say, “I have everything I want; other’s needs are not even in my realm of thought,” like the rich man in the parable who didn’t even notice Lazarus’ begging at his door. Instead they have embraced your responsibility to others as part of whom you are, followers of Jesus Christ.
And this is an important reflection for us. We don’t help others only because this is a good thing to do. We don’t help others because we have plenty of extras in our lives. Some of the most generous people in our parish can be described as lower middle class. They have to forego things their family would like so that others may have the items they need. So, our generosity is not to get rid of our excess, our surplus. We help others because we are Christians. We do what the Lord is calling us to do when He said, “Follow me.” We are not merely humanitarians, respecting others dignity as human beings. That is wonderful, but we are more than humanitarians. We reach out to all because all are made in the image and likeness of God. We reach out to those hurting the most because Jesus associates with them. “Whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do unto me,” we hear in Matthew 25: 31-46.
Just as we have a responsibility towards the Lazaruses of the world, we also have a responsibility to prevent the collapse of Joseph. We cannot allow our country to go down the path of immorality. As good Americans, we have a responsibility to point the country to justice. That is what we do when we take stands for life. That is what we are doing when we care for the stranger in the land. That is what we are doing when we fight against any law that assaults the dignity of others, whether that law is on the conservative agenda or liberal agenda. In fact, before we define ourselves as conservatives or liberals, we need to remember that through our baptism we have been defined by the Lord as Christians. Our Christianity must guide the decision processes of our lives, not our politics.
“Father Abraham, if you cannot send Lazarus to give me some relief, at least send him to my brothers. They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them. But, Father Abraham, surely they will listen if someone were to rise from the dead. If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not listen even if someone were to rise from the dead.”
Unlike the rich man’s brothers in the parable, someone has risen from dead and called us to fight off our selfishness and our complacency, and reach out to others. He has provided us with His Word, in Hebrew and in Christian Scriptures. We have Moses and the prophets. We have Jesus. We know that we have responsibilities to others. We know that we have responsibilities to our country. We need to have the courage to reject any tendency we might have to ignore the plight of others, and the plight of our nation. We cannot be complacent. Others need us. Our country needs us. We have a responsibility to be Christians.
And we are Catholic. Catholicism is wonderful. Catholicism is Christianity in its purest and original form. It does not hedge on the truth, even when the truth is not popular or politically correct. We do not hedge on our faith. The Eucharist is the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, period. Mary is the Mother of God and our Mother, period. Abortion is killing a baby. We fight for the baby’s life no matter how that baby was conceived. Abusing poor workers is a sin against the dignity of man. We fight for others’ dignity no matter how these workers came into our country.
We are called today to fight against complacency. We are called to take responsibility for the needs of others and the needs of our country. May we have the courage to be Catholic.