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Bible Reflections View Comments

We Can't Keep Closing Our Eyes
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, September 29, 2013
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“The poor are where God lives. God is in the slums in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is where the opportunity is lost and lives are shattered. God is with the mother who has infected her child with a virus that will take both their lives. God is under the rubble in the cries we hear during wartime. God, my friends, is with the poor, and God is with us if we are with them.”

This stirring declaration was made by an unlikely prophet, the Irish-born rock star Bono, of U2. His long-standing commitment to end AIDS in Africa and bring about an end to global poverty has given him an insight that can be rare in the world of celebrity, privilege, and wealth.

The words of the prophet Amos remind us that this has long been a problem in human society. Words of contemporary prophets remind us that the problem continues unabated.

Today’s parable of the rich man (sometimes called Dives) and Lazarus is a familiar story, perhaps so much so that it’s lost its cutting edge. The rich man neglects the poor beggar at his door; they both die; one goes to heaven, the other goes to hell; their roles are reversed. The rich man is now the beggar, pleading for just a drop of water to quench his thirst.

This is the stuff of classic fairy tales and myths. We respond with a deep-seated recognition of our desire to see bad people punished and good people rewarded, even if it happens only in the afterlife. Too often, however, we fail to see ourselves in the person of the callous rich man.

We don’t like to admit it, but we know we’re often indifferent to people who are suffering from poverty, hunger, and disease. It might not be as close as a beggar at our front door, someone we literally step over to go to work. But it might be. And our discomfort is more often for our own safety than any empathy for the homeless.

We’ve become numb to news stories of genocide, drought, and starvation in the developing world. We’re momentarily shocked by gang rape in places like India, but we make excuses for rapes on our own college campuses.

The best among us take an active role in these situations, working on the ground to bring an end to suffering and oppression. Some of us donate time, money and a collective voice lobbying in the halls of power. We occasionally feel guilty that we have so much when others have barely enough to survive—when we can tear our attention away from the many distractions of our lives. But there will always be those who blame the victims and side with the oppressors.

The prophets demand that we stay aware of injustice, even when we’d rather not, until we feel compelled to do something about it. The ironic words at the end of Jesus’s parable should bring us up short. The rich man has asked that Lazarus be sent to his five brothers to warn them to change their lives and avoid his fate. Abraham tells him: “If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.”

We have heard the words of the Risen One. Are we persuaded? And if we are, what are we going to do about it?


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Bernard of Clairvaux: Man of the century! Woman of the century! You see such terms applied to so many today—“golfer of the century,” “composer of the century,” “right tackle of the century”—that the line no longer has any punch. But Western Europe's “man of the twelfth century,” without doubt or controversy, has to be Bernard of Clairvaux. Adviser of popes, preacher of the Second Crusade, defender of the faith, healer of a schism, reformer of a monastic Order, Scripture scholar, theologian and eloquent preacher: any one of these titles would distinguish an ordinary man. Yet Bernard was all of these—and he still retained a burning desire to return to the hidden monastic life of his younger days. 
<p>In the year 1111, at the age of 20, Bernard left his home to join the monastic community of Citeaux. His five brothers, two uncles and some 30 young friends followed him into the monastery. Within four years a dying community had recovered enough vitality to establish a new house in the nearby valley of Wormwoods, with Bernard as abbot. The zealous young man was quite demanding, though more on himself than others. A slight breakdown of health taught him to be more patient and understanding. The valley was soon renamed Clairvaux, the valley of light. </p><p>His ability as arbitrator and counselor became widely known. More and more he was lured away from the monastery to settle long-standing disputes. On several of these occasions he apparently stepped on some sensitive toes in Rome. Bernard was completely dedicated to the primacy of the Roman See. But to a letter of warning from Rome, he replied that the good fathers in Rome had enough to do to keep the Church in one piece. If any matters arose that warranted their interest, he would be the first to let them know. </p><p>Shortly thereafter it was Bernard who intervened in a full-blown schism and settled it in favor of the Roman pontiff against the antipope. </p><p>The Holy See prevailed on Bernard to preach the Second Crusade throughout Europe. His eloquence was so overwhelming that a great army was assembled and the success of the crusade seemed assured. The ideals of the men and their leaders, however, were not those of Abbot Bernard, and the project ended as a complete military and moral disaster. </p><p>Bernard felt responsible in some way for the degenerative effects of the crusade. This heavy burden possibly hastened his death, which came August 20, 1153.</p> American Catholic Blog One of the things that we need to remember is that we’re preaching Jesus, not the institutional Church. It’s easy to get caught up in the rules and regulations of the institution and forget that we are saved not by the Church but by the person of Jesus or the Church as the body of Christ.

 
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