Love Is to Give, Love Is to Ask
By Monsignor Francesco Follo
1) A lesson to live the present and a bewildering command
The first reading and the gospel of the Roman Liturgy about the parable of the poor Lazarus and of the rich glutton, [i] give the direction how to live the present. They don’t have the aim of terrifying us regarding the future punishment if we do not behave. These texts from the Bible tell us that the one who looks only for his or her overabundance cannot take care of the brothers in need and cannot recognize the Son of God in the poor Lazarus. Lazarus is Christ who has suffered all our pain and who has the wounds of the crucified love. He is at our door and waits.
Let’s contemplate the scene narrated by Christ. We see a rich man without name (or better his name are his riches) and a second man named Lazarus[ii]( = the one helped by God because he has nothing). Both men are under the look of the Almighty but they receive His presence in a different way.
The first doesn’t need it; he is so well off that he can enjoy –independently from God – a life with abundant banquets and elegant garments. The other has no one except God; he doesn’t have anything to eat and his body is covered in sores. Nobody goes near him, only dogs approach and console him.
Let’s now have a look at ourselves: we too have sores that we can hide under our riches, but God knows them. These sores make us lie down on earth and implore the heaven. They sharpen our hunger for completeness and are “loopholes” that open us to the Mystery. We are blessed when we miss being “poor” because this is the truth of our being a person. We are poor but we do not deny it to ourselves so that it disguises what we are; if we do not put ourselves at God’s level we think that we can do without him. What do we have that we didn’t receive from Him? Let’s remember that the kingdom of heaven is ours because we are poor of heart, we are sons and daughters, we are men and women … like Jesus… for this reason we are “rich,” rich of His love, rich of having God as Father.
Then we will be able to do the impossible: “to love our enemies” (as we are remembered in today’s Gospel of the Ambrosian liturgy).
A monk from Mount Athos comments this stupefying command of Christ: “There are men that wish suffering and agony in the eternal fire to their enemies and to the enemies of the Church. In thinking so they don’t know God’s love. The one that has the love and the humility of Christ cries and prays for the entire world. Maybe you say: this one is an evildoer and he must burn in the eternal flame. But I ask you: let’s suppose that the Master gives you a place in his kingdom. If you see burning in the eternal fire the one to whom you have wished eternal suffering, would you not have compassion for him even if he had been an enemy of the Church? Do you have a heart of stone? In the Kingdom of Heaven there is no room for stones. There, the humility and the heart of Christ who has mercy of everybody, are required” He ends with this prayer:” Master, as you have prayed for your enemies, teach us through the Holy Spirit to love them and even to pray for them. However it is a difficult thing for us sinners if your grace is not with us.”
Let’s look at Saint Francis of Assisi who was poor and humble, because there is nothing greater than to learn the humility and the begging of Christ (Lazarus is the symbol of Jesus mendicant of love). The humble person lives poor and happy, all is good to his heart. Only the one who is humble and poor of heart sees God in the Holy Spirit. Humility is the light in which we see God who is the light: in his light we see light. Our dawn “dies” in God’s day.
2) Death is not a level, it is a scale
The counterbalance is seen in the second part of the parable where the parts are inverted: now the rich in under and Lazarus is up. Death shows that the Kingdom of God has won. When one dies, he opens his eyes. Death is the time when we see things as they really are. Death is the dramatic door that allows the sunset of our human dawn to “die” in the light of the everlasting day of God.
Now comes on stage also the other five brothers of the rich man (the sixth brother) who continue to live “carefree” in their riches. It is their way of living that makes them blind in front of the “seventh” (seven is a number that is the symbol of completeness) brother (Jesus) who is near, just over the door through which they don’t want to look because there is the wounded poor. They are blind in front of the Holy Scriptures (that yet are very clear).
The rich man of this parable doesn’t oppose God and doesn’t oppress the poor; he just doesn’t see him and lives as if God doesn’t exist nor has anything to do with him.
Now the rich man asks the poor for a drop of water for himself and to warn his brothers. What good would do to warn them? They have the prophets and Moses and don’t need anything else. There are not the voices that are missed, not the evidences, but the freedom to understand and the clear mind to see. It is the way of living as a rich man that makes blind.
The way to the Cross is a road of light that takes to Heaven. This road has a name: charity, with lot of synonyms: mercy, pity, compassion, sharing, solidarity, communion, unity, welcoming, participation and assumption.
The road that takes to Heaven is Called Christ. There are no other ways. There are no other roads. There are no other lanes. It is a love pure, true, real, spiritual, made of concreteness and of the gift of one’s life and riches that takes to Heaven. On this road we find the consecrated Virgins. On the day of their consecration the Bishop prayed: “Give them the warmth of love to love you above all others. Make their lives deserve praise without seeking to be praised. May they give you glory by holiness of action and purity of heart. May they love you and fear you; may they love you and serve you. Be you their glory, their joy, their whole desire. Be their comfort in sorrow, their wisdom in perplexity, their protection in the mist of justice.” ( Rite of the Consecration of the virgins)
[i] From the Latin word epulae= food and epulum= banquet. In the pagan Roman world the noun indicated every member of the sacerdotal College who was in charge of organizing a solemn banquet on the occasion of the sacrifices in honor of Jupiter. In the Christian world referring to the main character of a well-known parable indicates a rich and selfish person, a glutton.
[ii]We don’t know the female version of the name. Its origins are very old and it has come to us through the transformation of the Jewish word El’azar, made of Elwhich is the short name for God and ‘azar which means to help. Lazarus means “God helps, God provides.” The general meaning is a form of thanksgiving to God.
XXIV Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C- September 29, 2013
Am 6: 1A, 4-7; Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31
The poor saves the rich
V Sunday after Saint John’s Martyrdom
Is 56:1-7; Ps 118; Rm 15:2-7; Lk 6:27-38
Love your enemies