Summary: We will be judged on our service to the poor--but do our social systems make it easy or difficult to do so?
Thursday of 33rd week in course 2015
Joy of the Gospel
Two things tie our Scriptures together today. The obvious one is that they are texts written in or about a time of injustice and disaster. In the first reading, the Syrian king Antiochus IV has decreed that all his subjects would act like Greeks. He forbade Jewish worship and practices. In the second, Jesus is mourning the sin and destiny of the Holy City, Jerusalem. He foresaw the rebellion of 67 AD and the destruction of the Temple after a full year of siege by Titus and his legions. The Temple was burned to the ground and the only thing that is left of it is a retaining wall, called the prayer wall or Western Wall or wailing wall.
But the second link is that the eventual judgement of God on first the Syrians and then the Jews is that the poor were the ones hurt the most by the policies of the leaders. Antiochus and the leaders of his day saw themselves as part of an elite, and the common people as their slaves. So they could work out and play at the gymnasiums and enjoy their baths and feasts while the little guy sweated to produce the food and hot water for meager wages or worse. In Jesus’s day, the rich Jews were doing the same thing to the poor. Leaders ought to see themselves as servants of the people, but that was not happening in either age. It doesn’t seem to be happening today, either.
The Holy Father continues his treatment of this topic: ‘We incarnate the duty of hearing the cry of the poor when we are deeply moved by the suffering of others. . .This truth greatly influenced the thinking of the Fathers of the Church and helped create a prophetic, counter-cultural resistance to the self-centred hedonism of paganism. We can recall a single example: “If we were in peril from fire, we would certainly run to water in order to extinguish the fire… in the same way, if a spark of sin flares up from our straw, and we are troubled on that account, whenever we have an opportunity to perform a work of mercy, we should rejoice, as if a fountain opened before so that the fire might be extinguished.”’
The words are from St. Augustine. Pope Francis continues: ‘This message is so clear and direct, so simple and eloquent, that no ecclesial interpretation has the right to relativize it. The Church’s reflection on these texts ought not to obscure or weaken their force, but urge us to accept their exhortations with courage and zeal. Why complicate something so simple? Conceptual tools exist to heighten contact with the realities they seek to explain, not to distance us from them. This is especially the case with those biblical exhortations which summon us so forcefully to brotherly love, to humble and generous service, to justice and mercy towards the poor. Jesus taught us this way of looking at others by his words and his actions. So why cloud something so clear? We should not be concerned simply about falling into doctrinal error, but about remaining faithful to this light-filled path of life and wisdom. For “defenders of orthodoxy are sometimes accused of passivity, indulgence, or culpable complicity regarding the intolerable situations of injustice and the political regimes which prolong them.”
‘When Saint Paul approached the apostles in Jerusalem to discern whether he was “running or had run in vain” (Gal 2:2), the key criterion of authenticity which they presented was that he should not forget the poor (cf. Gal 2:10). This important principle, namely that the Pauline communities should not succumb to the self-centred lifestyle of the pagans, remains timely today, when a new self-centred paganism is growing. We may not always be able to reflect adequately the beauty of the Gospel, but there is one sign which we should never lack: the option for those who are least, those whom society discards. Sometimes we prove hard of heart and mind; we are forgetful, distracted and carried away by the limitless possibilities for consumption and distraction offered by contemporary society. This leads to a kind of alienation at every level, for “a society becomes alienated when its forms of social organization, production and consumption make it more difficult to offer the gift of self and to establish solidarity between people”.’
We need to think about this as we look forward to the next election. Now the only person I will tell how to vote is myself. But we have to ask the candidates if they support a reordering of our social systems so that each of us is more free to offer the gifts of ourselves, more free to establish solidarity with the poor. That’s better than laissez faire, which ignores our responsibility to the poor, and far better than socialism, which enslaves everyone to the government and cripples our ability to do good, because we would be totally consumed with taking care of ourselves with inadequate resources or opportunities for betterment.