Wednesday, September 29, 2010

VincentFest & VincentFast

Homily from the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time - Year C

I have a friend at my old seminary, the Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio. He is from Burma: a tiny, poor country in Asia. His name is Saw Francisco.

Saw Francisco is the happiest guy in the seminary. In all the time I spent with him, not once did I ever see Saw Francisco angry, cross, agitated or frustrated. I’ve never seen him lose his temper. Saw Francisco always, always has a smile on his face; always offers a friendly greeting and asks how you are doing.

One day, a bunch of the guys were hanging around and someone asked Saw Francisco what he would miss most about the seminary. Saw smiled and said, “Two things: my bed and hot water.”

Everyone just kind of froze when they heard this. I think a couple jaws dropped a bit… eyes widened. And we quickly realized how different our lives are from Saw Francisco’s and so many other people around the world.

We often forget the poor. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us about the rich man who dressed in the finest clothes and ate the finest foods every, single day. While Lazarus, a sick, poor, starving man lays at his doorstep. When these men die, Lazarus goes to Heaven and the rich man goes to Hell.

Why did the rich man go to Hell? Was it because he was rich, or because he had the finest clothes and the finest food? No. Pope John Paul II said of this Gospel, “Nowhere does Christ condemn the mere possession of earthly goods as such. Instead he pronounces very harsh words against those who use their possessions in a selfish way, without paying attention to the needs of others.” (Homily in Yankee Stadium, 2 October 1979.) The rich man went to Hell, not because of his riches, but because he ignored the poor man, Lazarus.

Jesus tells us that Lazarus would gladly have eaten of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table. In those days, there were no such things as napkins. So the very wealthy would wipe their hands clean with pieces of bread and throw them onto the ground. These are the scraps Lazarus would have gladly eaten. But Lazarus does not get so much as a scrap because the rich man ignores him.

We must not forget our brothers and sisters who have no bed, no hot water, no food, no job, no clothing, no home, no one to love them or pray for them. We who have so much, must be ever mindful and ready to help those who have so little. The Second Vatican Council reminds us of this obligation in its document, Gaudium et Spes which states, “Everyone must consider his every neighbor without exception as another self, taking into account first of all his life and the means necessary to living it with dignity so as not to imitate the rich man who had no concern for the poor man Lazarus.” (G&S 27).

And we, above all people; and at this time, above all other times, should be mindful of the poor. For this weekend, we celebrate the feast of our patron Saint: Saint Vincent de Paul who dedicated his entire life to imploring the wealthy to give generously of their resources for the sake of the poor. We’re familiar with this work of St. Vincent de Paul for the poor; he also ministered to condemned prisoners who would lay on damp dungeon floors, while they were covered with vermin and sores, whose only food was black bread and water. Sounds like Lazarus doesn’t it?

St. Vincent de Paul the man did not forget the poor. And St. Vincent de Paul the parish will not forget the poor.

We will be mindful of the poor through the three acts of penance: prayer, almsgiving and fasting. We will be mindful of the poor in our prayer at this Mass. We will be mindful of the poor in our second collection today which is for the St. Vincent de Paul Society. And we must be mindful of the poor through fasting.

Fasting is not just something we do during Fridays in Lent. As Catholics we are to offer some form of penance every Friday of the year: be it abstaining from meat, or fasting from a meal, or walking the stations of the cross, or praying a rosary. (Code of Canon Law: #1249-1253).  We do this every Friday because we offer it as a penance for our sins to Jesus who gave his life for us on Good Friday.

And we offer it, not just to deny ourselves of too much food, or drink, or pleasure; but also so that we may be in communion with our brothers and sisters who do not have what we have.

This doesn’t mean, we cannot enjoy the good things we have. Jesus wants us to relish his gifts which we have received from his bounty. Jesus wants us to have feasts. That’s why days that honor Jesus, Mary and the Saints such as today are called feasts; because Christians would celebrate these days with feasts. And that’s what we're doing this weekend at our VincentFest (Fest by the way, means feast). We will enjoy good food and good company.

We Catholics are feasting people. We’re also fasting people. So this weekend, let us observe VincentFest. And this Friday, let each of us observe a VincentFast.

At this Mass, pray about how you want to fast this Friday as a way to be in communion with our poor brothers and sisters around the world; then when you go home, write it down on your calendar so you won’t forget. Maybe you’ll abstain from meat. Maybe you’ll skip a meal. Maybe you’ll fast from your bed and sleep on the floor Friday night. Maybe you’ll fast from hot water and take a cold shower Friday morning.

We will not ignore our poor brothers and sisters lying at our doorstep. May this Eucharist inspire us to spend a moment this Friday to live in communion with them.

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