Lazarus and Dives and World Day of Migrants and Refugees

Today is the Feast of St. Michael—our parish patron saint. We’ll have our picnic this afternoon. We celebrate, not only St. Michael, but that we are a parish: a stable, defined community. We gather together to hear the Word of God. We partake of the Body of Christ to be strengthened as the Body of Christ. We come together so that together we can support one another, so that together we carry on the ministry of Christ. We support one another, and together we are sent into the world.

Today is also the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, as declared by the Church. The Catholic Church in the U.S. has been celebrating this every year since 1914.  That is significant for our parish: This celebration was important 100 years ago, and it is important today.

Catholics were outsiders and “suspect.”  Catholicism was a foreign religion. Catholics were called “Papists,” pledging loyalty to an Italian pope, head of papal states.  Catholics were hated by the KKK which was very strong in northern Indiana—They paraded down Michigan Rd in Plymouth.

Our stained glass windows reflect our parish root. In one of our windows we have St. Patrick. The Irish had gone through terrible trials. In New York 150 years ago, their homes were burned—one a night by the Know-Nothings until Bishop John Hughes went to the mayor and threatened retaliation. The movie The Gangs of New York accurately depicts the bitter struggles between the Nativists and the Irish.

The window with St. Boniface reminds us that portion of our parish was German—. German-Americans were also thought to be unpatriotic and sympathetic to the Kaiser. Woodrow Wilson commented—referring to German-Americans– “Any man who carries a hyphen about with him, carries a dagger that he is ready to plunge into the vitals of this Republic when he gets ready.” Public libraries got rid of books in German, German schools, such as one in Rolling Prairie closed. Some German-Americans Anglicized their names from Schmidt to Smith.

And of course, migrants and refugees today are in the national news and in Plymouth.

Nationally, it is the growth of immigrants that has kept the Catholic Church from shrinking as dramatically as the other churches in the U.S.

Locally in Plymouth, the population has basically stayed the same since 2010. However, 29% of our population is now Hispanic. What would Plymouth look like today without the presence of migrants and their U.S. born children?

Immigrants today—like those of earlier generations—are on the margins of society–much poorer than those whose families have been here for generations. The Church 100 years ago and still today, serves and protects those who are poor. We started Catholic schools to teach the Catholic faith to our children—and to protect them from the nativist Americans. The bishop of Fort Wayne invited the Poor Handmaids of Jesus Christ to come from Germany to teach the German speaking children in German. The Sisters were to serve and to protect. That is still our mission today. As a parish we continue to support and protect one another, especially those on the margins, the poor and the vulnerable, those who do not have legal status: the unborn and the undocumented.

Today’s readings remind us of the centrality of works of charity and social justice to the mission of the Church. It’s part of what we do as the Body of Christ.

We tend to think of the social mission of the Church as “something extra,” or as something just from the goodness of our hearts, or something we do after the real mission of the Church is done. But charity and justice are at the core of what we are called to do. As the 1971 Synod of Bishops said (a world synod whose document was approved by Pope Paul VI) said:

Action on behalf of justice and participation in the transformation of the world fully appear to us as a constitutive dimension of the preaching of the Gospel,…that means if we do not serve with works of charity and justice, we are not evangelizing in the Catholic tradition (No. 6)

In the first reading last week, Amos condemned those ”who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor of the land.”   This week he goes after “the complacent in Zion,” stretched out comfortably on their couches, drinking wine from bowls, unaffected by the poverty and ills that hurt others.

Amos’ God—our God–keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, loves the just, protects foreigners, sustains the fatherless and widows.

Jesus made serving others—including the welcoming of foreigners—the basis of entering His Father’s Kingdom at the Last Judgment in Mt. 25. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, it is the foreigner who acts as neighbor.

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, it is service to those in need that is the basis for entering the kingdom. We only know two things about them—First, one was rich and the other poor. Second, one was in need, and the wealthy one failed to help him and so he is sent to hell. There is no mention of whether they prayed, were faithful in their marriages—only that one was in need, and the other failed to do anything for him.

Today, as we celebrate the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, we are the richest country in the world, with people—like Lazarus, seeking asylum, have people like Lazarus at our doorstep, seeking asylum, fleeing poverty or violence—or both, or living in our midst in the shadows, in fear.

It is the mission of the Church to protect and to serve. We are called to be guided by love. Pope Francis’ call to Encounter is meant to call us to, not only serve one another, but get to know and love one another: the entire Body of Christ, the entire parish, across race, social class, and nationality.

As we celebrate our parish Feast Day, share in our parish picnic, I am reminded of a theme for the Congregation of Holy Cross: “Crossing borders of every sort.” Today we have the opportunity to cross borders of culture, perhaps language, perhaps nationality to break bread with fellow parishioners.  I encourage you to meet some one who is different from you. Ask them about their family roots, their hopes for their children, their dreams, their Faith. You may discover you have much more in common than you think—and find a new friend.

“Which side are you on?”

We pray the St. Michael Prayer often. This battle between St. Michael and Satan is not just personal between the two of them. It is part of a cosmic battle: the struggle between the goodness and generous love of God and the sin and evil in a fallen world. It takes many forms and expressions.

This battle is measured, not in terms of dollars and cents, games won or lost, but what happens to people. As the U.S. bishops said in their pastoral letter on the economy: the measure of an economy is not the gross national product, but what it does for the poor, especially the most vulnerable. The measure of a great nation is not how many battle ships it has, but what it does to and for people, especially the most in need.

The battle can be clearly seen and delineated sometimes: a person takes a machine gun and shoots innocent people. A small group of people hijack some airplanes and crash them into the Twin Towers. Good and evil are clearly seen.

Other times it is foggy and not clear. A pharmaceutical company creates opioids that reduce pain but creates addictions.  Was it deliberate greed? Was it accidental?    ???

Violence in Central American countries, changes in weather patterns in Africa, drought, famine cause mass migrations. Changes in economic policy, trade, and tariffs have effects on farmers, manufacturers, and families: industries change, hardworking people lose jobs, people turn to addictions. Some lose faith in society, others lose faith in God.

The cause and effects and not always clear. Motivation and blame are not always easily discerned. Solutions are not always obvious. But there can still be great human suffering.

But all these things are not merely insignificant. They are part of the cosmic battle. God’s creation is in turmoil. And the crown of that creation—the human person, created in God’s images and likeness–is often suffering.

There are two primary things to remember:

  1. The battle lines are drawn and clear.
  2. And God takes sides. God opts for the poor and the suffering.

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

“To those who trample upon the needy and destroy the poor,” who cannot wait for the religious ceremonies to be over so they can cheat people, Yahweh says: “Never will I forget a thing they have done!”

Yahweh appeared to Moses in the burning bush:  And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows;

And I am come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians. (Ex 3:7-8a)

We often pray: “The Lord hears the cry of the poor.”

Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man who did nothing to help Lazarus, the parable of the Good Samaritan, the Last Judgment in Matthew’s Gospel make it clear where He stands.

St. John Paul II said we must choose between the culture of life and the culture of death.

And there is no neutrality. We often cannot see the battle lines in the battle. People of good faith may have different solutions and approaches to reducing the human suffering in the battle, but we are never neutral about which side we are on. We serve Christ and the Kingdom of God.

Nor can we be neutral and withdraw to only a “spiritual battle.” The battles in the Bible are about slavery, oppression, working people to death to support Pharaoh’s economy, the slaughter of the innocents, being conquered and carried off to a foreign land as slaves, returning to a homeland. The prophets call us to defend the widow, the alien, the orphan. Jesus calls for feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, caring for the foreigner, the sick, the imprisoned—and to be willing to suffer for it.

Authentic spirituality is seeing these “worldly, economic, political, social realities” in the light of God’s Word. It means we recognize them as part of the battle between St. Michael and Satan. We must choose because:

“You cannot serve both God and mammon.”

And so, we have listened to God’s word…We will profess our Faith and declare which side we are on…We will intercede for the suffering in Jesus’ name. We will bless the Lord God of all creation for how he has generously blessed us. We will remember how Jesus celebrated the Passover, of how God saved the Hebrews with “mighty hand and outstretch arm.”  We celebrate how Jesus confronted sin and death, and rose in victory. We will pray at his table, be strengthened with his body and blood, and be sent back into battle as we are sent into the world to build the Kingdom of God.

 

Catechetical Sunday, Sept. 15

Not so long ago we lived in a world of “Christendom,” where social structures supported the Faith. Religion thrive, and Americans had “Faith in Faith,” as Ken Woodward said[1].

  • 98% of Americans said they believed in God.
  • In the 1950’s, Americans built more churches and synagogues than at any other time.
  • Regular Sunday worship was the norm.
  • Protestant Sunday school was a national institution.
  • By 1960 half of school-age Catholic children were in parochial school. Seminaries thrived.
    • Catholic seminarians were full. (In the 1930’s and 40’s it was not unusual for dioceses to not accept seminarians because they were full[2].)
    • Protestant seminaries picked from among their best and brightest students. In the 1050’s and 60’the FCC required broadcasters to provide free airtime for religious programs [3]

That world is gone. We can grieve about it. We can complain about it, but it’s not our world today. It’s not the world that our children are growing up in today.

So, what do we do differently?  Unfortunately not very much. And we need to. What we are doing—not just in this parish—but everywhere needs to be looked at.  Some of the things we need to do are:

  1. We need to understand the world as it is. We need to know more of the world our kids live in. They are surrounded by social media: music, Facebook, chat rooms. Drugs are easily available and many more things.
    1. Our world is complex. That means our understanding of the Faith needs to be complex. It needs more than an elementary school level.
    2. As adults in the U.S. we face many issues. Our bishops have written pastoral letters on the issues of:
      1. The U.S. Economy The U.S. Economy—Justice for All
      2. War and Peace and the use of nuclear arms. The Challenge of Peace—God’s Promise and Our Response
  1. Always Our Children
  2. Immigration Strangers No Longer: Together on the Journey to Hope
  3. Racism: Open Wide Our Hearts: The Enduring Call to Love — A Pastoral Letter Against Racism

These are the issues that we as parents and adult face. Our bishops believe that they have enough moral significance that they should teach what our Faith has to say about them.

If we do not help them to understand these issues from a Catholic perspective, if our Faith has nothing to say about them, why would they stay in the Church?

  1. We have to understand that learning about Faith is a life-long process. Our children need to learn all through school, and we adults need to continue learning.
    1. Learning just enough to make First Communion and Confirmation is not enough.
  2. Religious education is not about learning to receive a sacrament. It is about becoming life-long Catholics ready to live our Faith in a complex world.

Today we will commission those people who are helping us with our religious education program. We are grateful for their work and efforts. May God complete the good work He has begun in them.

[1] Woodward, Kenneth L. Getting Religion (p. 1). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition

[2] Fr. Elmer Rupp, C.S.C. told me he came to Holy Cross because the Diocese of Toledo said that they did not have any more room. There were several priests in the Diocese of Austin who came from Boston; Boston would not accept them because they had no room.

 

[3] Ibid., p. 346

Mission Appeals

We have a mission appeal in our parish this week-end. In this case, a Sister of Saint Joseph will come and speak about the mission efforts of her Congregation, and we will take up a second collection for that work.

I think we often misunderstand these efforts. Whether it is a collection for missions or for a special work–Catholic Campaign for Human Development, Seminary Fund–it’s not just about the money.

 

First, it’s a reminder that the Church is much larger than our local congregation. We are part of a Church which exists at the diocesan, national, and universal level. We count on these levels for support. For example, when a priest dies, gets sick, or is moved, we expect some one to send another priest. That means some one somewhere has spent time and money to prepare him with an education. Or he is leaving another work to come to our parish.

Secondly, the Church is sent to the world. The Church is missionary. If we are not careful, the tendency for us is always to think of our local community: its hopes, dreams, and needs. Those are important, of course, but they are all meant to help prepare us to go out into the world and serve others.

 

Labor Day

Today in the United States we celebrate Labor Day. Its purpose was to honor those who struggled in the fight for labor rights, as well as recognize the importance and value of those who work.
 
But today’s celebration is still a special day for the Church because the Church had a role in this struggle, and that struggle marked out a path for the Church that continues today.
 
To appreciate what that was one must remember what it was like in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. With the Industrial Revolution, workers were drawn first from farms and then from Europe, mostly Eastern Europe. Great wealth was gained for a few—sometimes called Robber Barons—but long hours and low pay were the result for many. In those days:
 
There was no minimum wage.
There were no unions.
There were no laws for safe working conditions.
Workers could be fired for any cause.
There were no child labor laws; children could work at any age.
There were no health care or death benefits.
 
The world was shocked when Pope Leo XIII published Rerum Novarum in 1891. He proclaimed that there should be a minimum wage, enough to support a family; if it didn’t happen naturally, the state should mandate it. He also supported unions so that workers could collaborate together and have the power to negotiate with their employers.
 
During World War I, the Catholic bishops in the United States had formed the National Catholic War Council in order to find chaplains for the American armed forces. After the war, they decided they need to continue meeting in order to teach the values of our Catholic Faith in a way that would provide a lasting peace at home. Given the instability of the workers and working conditions, they issued a pastoral letter in 1919—one hundred years ago. In it, they advocated for:
 
a minimum wage,
benefits for widows and dependent children,
workers’ unions,
social security for the elderly,
child labor laws and other things.
 
These things would—with the help of many other people of good faith—become part of the New Deal.
 
Today we celebrate the efforts of those who have gone before us. We can take pride in their hard work and struggles. We are proud of our Church and its work in the past. The National Catholic War Council is known today as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. Our bishops and the Catholic Church continue to teach, guide us, and call us to action on behalf of the unborn, the elderly, immigrants, workers, the poor in the United States and in other countries, and many other things
 
We rejoice that we too are called to continue the work of our Lord who proclaimed:
 
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring glad tidings to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

True Humility

We have always had differences and diversity of people and opinions in the United States. “You say ‘To-maht-o,’ and I say ‘To-may-to’” In fact, this has been and is one of our strengths.  But in at least the last fifteen years, we have become more and more polarized.  And it is not only our politics, but it is even happening within our Church. And it is hurting all of us—our country—and our Church very badly.

First, we tend to associate almost exclusively with people who already agree with us. We form friendships, join groups—even churches—that share our social and political points of view. Bill Bishop wrote a big, The Big Sort,” in which he demonstrates all this and how we even choice our neighborhoods based on our preferences.

But two other things have happened.

  1. We—and this is true of both liberals and conservatives–demonize those we don’t agree with. We say they are stupid, unchristian, unpatriotic, and evil. “They hate America!” “They are unpatriotic. They are evil.”
    1. There is even a name for this: political motivation asymmetry
  2. We are starting to ostracize. “They aren’t really Americans.” “He’s a rhino—Republican in name only.” He’s not a real Catholic.”
    1. We are at the point where at some universities when some professors—usually conservatives—appear to speak, the students—usually liberals—show up and shout them down. “They’re wrong—don’t let them speak” seems to be the mantra.

But the demonizing and the ostracizing are both liberal and conservative. Watch Fox news and then switch to MSNBC.

This where we need to remember the virtue of humility.

  1. No, I don’t think Jesus meant a false humility. “Play humble so that they make you look more important.
  2. And no, not a humility that says, “Gee whiz, I’m nobody. I’m not worth anything.”
  3. Rather the humility of “St. Theresa—of realizing what you true value is—and I would add what the true value of others is as well.
  4. First, we need to remember that person is distinct from his or her opinion. Each person is a child of God, made in the image and likeness of God. Another person might have a different opinion as to what the best way is to provide health care, or what is the best way to solve the challenges of the movements of people, or how to fix the educational system. But I have no reason to doubt their loyalty to the country, or whether God loves them, or whether they love. They have a different idea.
  5. The Catholic Church teaches that the pope is infallible when teaching as pope—ex cathedra—and only in matters of faith and morals. In all other things he is fallible and could be wrong. All of us are fallible and could be wrong in all matters. That means you could be wrong.

There should always be a little voice inside of us, reminding us that the other person could possibly be right, reminding us of our and their true value. that he or she is a child of God, that we might need their help some day.

When we demonize people or say they don’t belong, we are hurting ourselves and our society and/or Church.

  1. Ourselves because we are being unfaithful to Christ. Jesus did not tell us, “Do not have any enemies.” He said, “Love your enemies.”  We must recognize both ourselves and them as being made in the image and likeness of God. We must treat them with kindness and with the love of God. We might disagree with their ideas or solutions, but we are called to love them as we love ourselves.
  2. We are tearing each other, our society, our Church apart. If we saw our nation’s enemies as acting this way, we would rejoice: They can’t last.” We mustn’t tear each other apart.

With true humility, we recognize God’s goodness in all of us, and we are guided by: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

The Soul of America

Jon Meacham has written biographies of American presidents. He has also written two books dealing with the intersection of Faith and the American political tradition.

The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels

Meacham is not a Christian nationalist; he is not about imposing Christianity or excluding other traditions. But he does see our political tradition as having roots and values of the Judaeo-Christian tradition at our core.

The “American soul” has been able to embrace (at least to some degree) many different traditions. The KKK has thrived at one point in American history; there were many Congressional representatives, Senators, judges, and governors; the KKK proudly marched publicly in many cities and towns, including Washington, D.C. The American soul has also embrace the civil rights movement and the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He points out that people often ask, “Has it ever been this bad in the United States before?” They look at the divisiveness, crude language, ridiculing one’s opponents, Congress’ inability to get anything done, etc. Meacham says, “Yes, it has been worse….We had a Civil War; we have had rioting in the streets, and so forth. And yet got through it.” But he wants to be very clear. We must not be complacent. It’s not that things will just get better. We have to look at our problems, seek out solutions, talk with one another, and then sacrifice to make things better.

I am reminded of Scott Peck’s book on community , A Different Drummer. Very often groups will see it’s necessary to change, but they expect that it will be other people who change and adapt; they expect to remain exactly the same. It’s only when they realize that the entire community or organization may collapse that they themselves change.

We can make things better, but we will have to work and sacrifice to do it. It won’t just happen by itself.