IN OUR MIDST
It O.K. to Be Rich?
so bad about being rich? Is it a sin, after all, to work hard and reap the rewards
of your labor?
These are questions worth asking in a time and place like this,
living, as most of us do, in a First World country with advantages the rest
of the world only dreams of. The Bible tells us that God hears the cry of the
poor, and the Church teaches that God has "a preferential option for the poor."
This implies we ought to be looking out for the poor as well. So does this mean
that God doesn—t hear the cry of the well-to-do, and God has it in for the SUV-driving
Lots of ancient morality stories deal with the disparity between
rich and poor, and some of these tales fall into the category of "next-life
reversals." We can see the basic outline of these stories in the parable Jesus
tells of the rich man and Lazarus the beggar (Luke 16:19-31). Remember this
The rich man, called Dives by tradition (dives means rich
in Latin), dines sumptuously every day, while Lazarus desires but does not get
even the crumbs that fall from the rich guy—s table. Instead, he sits outside,
his running sores licked by dogs. Gross, for sure, but it gets better for our
hero Lazarus. In the next life, he gets to lie in the bosom of Abraham in heaven,
while the rich fellow groans in the torments of the netherworld. Not quite the
end of the story, but that—s enough for now.
Why does the rich man go to hell, more or less, while Lazarus
gets paradise? There is no hint in the story that Dives is a bad man or, for
that matter, that Lazarus is a good one. So we are nearly led to believe that
being rich is the sin of the first man, and being poor is the virtue of the
second. But that—s not right either. So what are we to understand from this
Seeking the Full Story
We want more details, perhaps, to fill in the blanks about these
characters. Was the rich man aware of Lazarus at his door? Did he know about
his hunger, the sores, the dog situation, and did he choose to do nothing about
it? And how about Lazarus? How did he get to be in this awful predicament, and
did he do anything to contribute to his striking lack of success?
We begin to imagine that Dives must have made a big mistake (something
we might avoid with a little forethought); say, he forgot to give to the Bishop—s
Annual Appeal or the United Way Fund. And seeing Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham
at the end, we presume that he ended up on Skid Row not because he was lazy,
did poorly on his SATs or had a drinking problem, but because he got laid off
in a failing economy. What we want, in short, is evidence that the rich guy
was a bad guy, and the poor man a victim of injustice.
But the parable tells us none of that. What we do know is that
the rich man had a great life and Lazarus had a lousy time of it, and that after
they died, their fortunes were reversed.
Unlike many afterlife reversal stories
from antiquity, however, Lazarus does not jeer at the rich man—s fate from where
he now sits in heaven, a sign perhaps of his good-heartedness. He never wanted
to break into the rich man—s house and take his stuff, either; he just wanted
the crumbs, the spare change, the leftover part that Dives could have readily
And we catch a glimpse of the rich man—s
soul when he does not protest his final state, but asks only to warn his brothers,
still guilty of the same choices he made. This in itself may be an admission
of his negligence; Dives acknowledges that his brothers remain blissfully unrepentant
in their self-serving lifestyle.
The bottom line would seem to be that
compassion is the responsibility of those whose needs are met and then some.
No excuses will be accepted; ignorance of the plight of others does not make
us less culpable, when suffering is all around us with brilliant global clarity.
Pick a cause, any cause: but be compassionate without fail. It—s no sin to be
rich, but it—s a fatal error not to share.
Alice Camille writes a monthly series, Exploring the
Sunday Readings, as well as the Testaments
feature in U.S. Catholic magazine, which was awarded
Best Column by the Catholic Press Association. She is the author
of Invitation to Catholicism: Beliefs & Teachings &
Practices and The Rosary: Mysteries of Joy, Light, Sorrow
and Glory (both by ACTA Publications).
Next: The Great Feast
How do you feel when you hear the story of Lazarus
and the rich man?
Where in your life do you experience abundance? How
can you share from this bounty?
this month's Questions for Reflection
from God in Our Midst.
By Judith Dunlap
7 is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, and also my birthday. Despite this
coincidence, the rosary was never a favorite prayer of mine. Last February that
Late on the night of the 20th my son-in-law called to tell us
he and our expectant daughter were on the way to the hospital. Kristin's first
labor and delivery had been extremely long and difficult. I was concerned about
the hours ahead. I tried to sleep, but could not. I tried to pray, but could
not. As I lay in bed I remembered the rosaries I had found earlier in the week.
One rosary was my mother's, the other, my grandmother's. I brought both home
after my mother's death.
I prayed those beads through much of the night, feeling the bond
to Jesus' mother, my own mother and grandmother—and my daughter, miles away.
I was still saying the rosary the next morning when Peter was born following
an easy labor and a smooth delivery.
In the days that followed I continued to pray the rosary, saying
a decade for each of my five children. I began asking for specific things they
needed. After a few weeks I discovered that my petitions were taking longer
to say than the Hail Marys. I decided to simplify things and dedicate a decade
to each child, leaving it up to God to decide what he or she most needed.
Today I notice that I worry less about my children. I don't feel
as responsible for solving their problems. Holding them in prayer for those
few minutes each day reminds me whose children they really are. And it proves
to me once again the basic truth that prayer doesn't change God's mind, nor
is it for God's benefit. Prayer changes us; we're the ones who profit.
it were not for the fact that the film Seabiscuit is based on a true
story, it would be unbelievable. Seabiscuit tells the story of a horse
that races to victory against incredible odds. But the story is really about
heart, about refusing to bow to adversity. Seabiscuit the racehorse becomes
a metaphor for the three men who race him, and a metaphor for Americans struggling
against the Great Depression.
Charles Howard (Jeff Bridges) is a self-made millionaire car salesman
in the 1920s whose irrepressible optimism is crushed when his young son is killed
in a car accident. Red Pollard (Tobey McGuire) is a youth left on his own by
his suddenly impoverished parents to pursue his dream of becoming a jockey.
However, he finds himself on the receiving end of beatings and vituperation,
making him rebellious and self-destructive. When we meet the loner Tom Smith
(Chris Cooper) he demonstrates a special healing empathy for injured horses.
"You don't throw a whole life away because you're banged up a little," he says.
The lives of these three men converge when Howard remarries, and
on the way back to becoming his old self again decides to buy a racehorse. The
horse he finds himself drawn to is an outcast. Although sired by champions,
Seabiscuit is thought to be too small to be a winner, and abuse by his trainers
has turned him violent. Howard's selections of Smith as his trainer and Pollard
as his jockey are likewise based on his empathy for the downtrodden who nevertheless
show great heart.
Under the calming hand of Smith, Seabiscuit becomes controllable
enough for riding. Pollard is the only jockey who will risk the ride. When Pollard
later loses a race and it is discovered that he is blind in one eye, Smith wants
to replace him. But Howard reminds Smith, "You don't throw a whole life away
because you're banged up a little."
Seabiscuit begins to win and becomes unbeatable in the West. But
Howard will not rest until he can challenge the great champion War Admiral in
the East. By the time the two horses meet at Pimlico in Maryland, Seabiscuit
has become the symbol of hope for millions of "little guys" across the country.
The movie likens the struggle of Seabiscuit and his team of outcasts to the
struggle of ordinary Americans to overcome the hunger and joblessness that characterized
life in the 1930s.
Director Gary Ross manages to create exciting races with extraordinary
cinematography, and to still keep the film personal through the struggles and
decisions faced by Howard, Pollard and Smith. Towards the end Howard says to
the others, "Everybody thinks we found this broken-down horse and fixed him.
But we didn't. He fixed us, and I guess we fixed each other."
AND HEROES AMONG US
By Judy Ball
St. Teresa of Avila
is one of the Church's most popular and influential saints, but there was nothing
easy about St. Teresa of Avila's path to sanctity. Her life was filled with
struggle and disappointment, but through prayer she found peace and deep union
Born near Avila, Spain, into a large aristocratic family, she
lost her mother at age 15. At 20 she informed her father of her wish to enter
religious life. His opposition was so strong that Teresa sneaked away to the
Carmelite Monastery of the Incarnation. There she took up her new life with
200 other nuns and encountered unexpected struggles.
Living conditions were relaxed, and the distractions were many.
Teresa, an outgoing, beautiful woman, was free to welcome visitors—and did.
Over time she realized she was not growing closer to God or developing her prayer
life. She determined to recommit herself to the life she had chosen. She persevered
in prayer, spending long hours in contemplative silence. In middle age she had
a series of mystical and visionary experiences.
Teresa now felt free to initiate the reform she had long desired.
Despite serious opposition, she established new foundations that would follow
the stricter Carmelite Rule. Focus was on personal poverty, solitude and simple
Encouraged to record her thoughts on prayer, she wrote The
Way of Perfection, describing prayer as a "friendly and frequent" solitary
conversation with God. Five years before her death she began work on her masterpiece,
The Interior Castle. She was the first woman to write extensively and
systematically on the spiritual life.
Teresa was canonized in 1622. In 1970, she was named a Doctor
of the Church. Her feast day is October 15.
Davis's prayer life is the source of her dynamic energy. As a child and young
adult, her conversations with God included heated expressions of anger at him
and the Blessed Mother. She wondered if they had abandoned her during the episodes
of sexual abuse she suffered. But, she told God, "I'm still going to pray to
And pray she has. Prayer is the electricity that charges Bette
with a passion to constantly seek God's will and act upon it.
Through God's grace, the sexual abuse she suffered has developed
in her an extraordinary compassion for other people's pain.
A member of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Centerville, Ohio,
Bette heads the parish telephone prayer chain. "We don't always
know the results of our prayers," she says, "but we're not
called to, unless God so chooses."
A wife, mother of five and grandmother of three, the Philadelphia
native has always had a special concern for women. Ten years ago she felt the
Lord calling her to make a spiritual retreat. Providentially, she met another
woman who had been praying about the need for a retreat for the women of the
parish. Together they launched a vibrant, spirit-filled annual weekend that
has become a haven for women of all ages.
It was at one of these weekends that Bette, now 61, revealed her
secret about the sexual abuse she suffered. The support from that community
of women gave her the freedom she needed to speak her heart.
"After hiding that darkness for 42 years," she says, "I was finally
able to thank God for the compassion he had given me as a result of the abuse
I suffered. Through his mercy I was finally freed of that darkness." At the
retreats, Bette wants the women to feel free to share their stories, to be heard
and healed just as she was.