From the Catholic Liturgy for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Sept. 29, 2019. Gospel of Luke 16:19-31. Theme: Touching Hearts and Changing Lives
(Our parish's annual appeal for the Society of St. Vincent de Paul)
Today’s Gospel of the Rich Man and Lazarus, ends by reminding us that people will not experience conversion of heart simply by hearing Bible stories, such as those about Moses or the prophets. We are told that not even the eyewitness stories of the Crucified Christ miraculously risen from the dead will do this! And I am sure we have all experienced this among some of our own family and friends who, having grown up hearing all Moses and the prophets and the Resurrection of Jesus, nevertheless live apart from Christ and his Church.
It’s easy for people to close their ears to mere words, because as we say, “talk is cheap”. But it’s not so easy to ignore faith-in-action. It’s one thing to hear the Church preaching about taking care of the poor and it’s is quite another thing to see Christians rolling up their sleeves and actually doing it. This kind of Christianity cannot be ignored. It has the power of God’s grace. It has the power to touch hearts and change lives while doing some good in the world.
And this is precisely what happened in Paris in 1833, a time when France was in the throes of revolution. The destitute poor were starving and being decimated by sickness in their slums, while the wealthy including many leaders of the Church, like the Rich Man in today’s gospel, were carrying on with their opulent lives. A devout 20-year-old Catholic law student at the Sorbonne University named Frederic Ozanam was challenged by a classmate to shut up about Christ because he was sick and tired of just hearing words from religious people.
In response to this challenge, Frederic gathered together with 5 other students and began to look for ways to put faith-into-action, to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. Even though it was extremely dangerous, Frederic and his companions decided to go 2-by-2 into the shacks and hovels of the Parisian slums. Through the works of mercy, they gave tangible proof of the love of Christ for the poor, the sick, the suffering and the vulnerable. This was the beginning of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a now world-wide Catholic lay association that today has close to 100,000 members just in the USA alone.
We here at St. Sebastian’s have very blessed to have had a parish Conference of the Society continuously for over 40 years. Its members, called Vincentians, still go 2-by-2 into the homes of those who ask for their help, just as Frederic and his companions did. They go to discover the suffering that is there and to do their best to help alleviate it. They go as ambassadors of you, the parishioners, whose contributions make it possible to meet the needs they encounter.
Vincentians are ordinary everyday parishioners whose love for Christ impels them to go out in search of the hungry and sick Lazaruses of today. Some of them are sitting beside you in our pews but you may not even know they are Vincentians because what they do is not about them. Rather, for them it is all about doing something beautiful for God and for the poor who are so often ignored like Lazarus.
And do we might wonder, what does the poor Lazarus that our Vincentians encounter look like today in Marin County? He looks like the Elderly person who has to decide whether to buy food or medicine with the remnant of their social security check because they can’t afford both… He looks like the under-employed working poor who are literally just dollars away from being homeless every single month, living continually under this stress…He looks like the Recovering Addict just out of rehab or the Inmate newly released from prison, who have no source of financial help to get them on their feet and headed in a new direction in life. If real-life stories like these speak to your heart then please know that there are three ways in which you can personally respond to these cries of the poor…
First, Spiritual Support. The Society is not simply a humanitarian organization like the Red Cross or Peace Corps. It is truly a continuation of the ministry of Jesus who came to heal and bring good news to the poor. This means that we cannot function and bear fruit without a solid spiritual foundation. And so, we and those we serve need your daily prayers. This is something everyone can do.
Second, Material Support. In a typical month, we Vincentians dispense anywhere from $2-3 thousand for the needy who live within our parish boundaries. We make this formal appeal to you only once a year and simply leave envelopes for your free-will donations throughout rest of the year. I can personally assure you that every penny donated goes directly to the needs of the poor. Today’s second collection is for the support of these works. St. Sebastian parishioners have always been extremely generous to the Society and I am confident that this generosity will continue. Thank you ahead of time!
Lastly, Vincentian Membership. If anyone has a desire to give new life to your faith-relationship with God and put your Christianity into concrete practice, then seriously consider making the gift of YOURSELF to the poor as a Vincentian. There are several ways to do this: active members, associate members and contributing members. Each has its own level of engagement and participation, but all are needed. You will receive both spiritual and practical formation for this task and the reward is eternal. If this idea touches a compassionate-place within you, please contact me or any Vincentian you might know. Come to our monthly meetings which are announced in the Sunday bulletin and learn how we seek to tend to the many bleeding wounds of Lazarus right here in our little part of Marin County.
But no matter if a person is a Vincentian or not, we are all called to give concrete witness to our love for God and our neighbor. Of course, we must always be willing to speak about our faith as opportunities arise, but even more-so we need to be like Jesus, like St. Vincent de Paul, like Blessed Frederic Ozanam and show the authenticity of our faith with actions more than just words. This is the kind of Christianity that no one can ignore, the kind that has the power to touch hearts and change lives while doing some good in the world.