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I THOUGHT YOU SHOULD KNOW | Care for the spiritually poor in our midst

‘Woe to the complacent in Zion! …they shall be the first to go into exile.’

The readings for the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time seem to suggest that if we are spiritually rich in this life until death, we will be spiritually rich for eternity. Likewise, if we are spiritually poor in this life until death, we will be spiritually poor for all eternity.

In the first reading, the complacent in Zion are spiritually poor. They are attached to luxurious living and focused on bodily pleasures, such as eating, drinking, and enjoying plush couches.

“They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils; yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!” In other words, their lives are consumed with the pleasures of the world of sense, but they are spiritually dead. They are not even spiritually upset that the tribe of Joseph has collapsed.

A prophet pronounces woes when there are grave dangers ahead. If the people’s lifestyles don’t change drastically, their life with God is over. Separation in hell is on its way. This is truly a cause for Amos’ pronunciations of woe.

On the other hand, St. Paul in the second reading celebrates spiritually rich virtues, such as “righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.” These virtues help us to “lay hold of eternal life.” He continues: “I charge you before God, …to keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Paul lays the groundwork for spiritual riches in this world and the next.

In the Gospel, we have an implicit dialogue going on between the spiritually rich beggar, Lazarus, and the rich man who is spiritually very poor. The rich man believes that he is the possessor of wealth, instead of its caretaker. His so-called riches are lent to him to use for the glory of God. However, he hoards them for selfish pleasure and doesn’t share them with poor Lazarus who is lying at his door, covered with sores.

Once they leave this life, Lazarus goes to the bosom of Abraham, whereas the rich man goes to a place of flames and torment.

This should cause us to pause and ask ourselves about the proper use of material blessings which are on loan to us. Do we use them to gain more material wealth, or do we use them to gain more spiritual wealth?

I am edified by the growing number of parishes that focus the parishioners’ attention more on the needs of the physically poor in our midst. At one time, that was primarily the role of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, but more pastors are saying, we all need to be thinking as the members of the St. Vincent de Paul Society.

However, we need to ask ourselves, are we giving equal attention to the spiritually poor in our midst? Who are they? Are they not the ones who have dropped out of Sunday Mass attendance? Are they not the ones who are angry with leaders in the Church? Are they not the ones who have made material success their god here on earth? Are they not our children who have turned against us? Are they not the leaders of our society, our politicians and our radio hosts?

If their challenges merely make us angry, then we are as spiritually poor as they are. They are looking to us as models of virtue and faith. They are looking to us as people of wisdom ready to help them in any way we can. They are looking for someone who believes in God enough to love them where they are.

We live in a very angry society, a society that is angry because it is falling away from the living God.

How can we turn this around? We can turn this around little by little as we develop the spiritual gifts to fill up what is lacking in society.

For example, if someone is angry with the Church, we would do well to begin with intercessory prayer for them so that God can put onto our hearts His love and compassion for them. As that love and compassion begins to build inside of us, we will discover a great peace about being in their midst and not upset by their anger. God will give us the patience to listen to them with patience and compassion.

Sometimes they simply need someone to hear them out, before they can explain their anger.

May I suggest a simple way of starting? Pick out one person either in your relationships or in society, and make that person the object of daily intercessory prayer. Ask the Heavenly Father to give you His compassion for this person.

As you go throughout the day and come upon an unexpected hardship, embrace this difficulty and offer it up for the special person of concern. Notice in a week or two how you have grown in compassion, not just for this person but also for people in general. You are becoming a real asset of peace in an angry society.

Notice how this change in attitude now flows into your family and into your social relationships. You are allowing Jesus to spiritually enrich you so that you can pass along to society His spiritual gifts.

This can’t happen without daily prayer and quiet time. God has so many blessings He wants to share with the world, but He can’t share them unless you are willing to take quiet time and receive them.

The neat thing about this approach is that those spiritual gifts change us as they pass through us! God wants to spiritually enrich our Church and our society, but He won’t do this without you.

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