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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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Jacopone da Todi: Jacomo, or James, was born a noble member of the Benedetti family in the northern Italian city of Todi. He became a successful lawyer and married a pious, generous lady named Vanna. 
<p>His young wife took it upon herself to do penance for the worldly excesses of her husband. One day Vanna, at the insistence of Jacomo, attended a public tournament. She was sitting in the stands with the other noble ladies when the stands collapsed. Vanna was killed. Her shaken husband was even more disturbed when he realized that the penitential girdle she wore was for his sinfulness. On the spot, he vowed to radically change his life. </p><p>He divided his possessions among the poor and entered the Secular Franciscan Order (once known as the Third Order). Often dressed in penitential rags, he was mocked as a fool and called Jacopone, or "Crazy Jim," by his former associates. The name became dear to him. </p><p>After 10 years of such humiliation, Jacopone asked to be a member of the Order of Friars Minor(First Order). Because of his reputation, his request was initially refused. He composed a beautiful poem on the vanities of the world, an act that eventually led to his admission into the Order in 1278. He continued to lead a life of strict penance, declining to be ordained a priest. Meanwhile he was writing popular hymns in the vernacular. </p><p>Jacopone suddenly found himself a leader in a disturbing religious movement among the Franciscans. The Spirituals, as they were called, wanted a return to the strict poverty of Francis. They had on their side two cardinals of the Church and Pope Celestine V. These two cardinals, though, opposed Celestine’s successor, Boniface VIII. At the age of 68, Jacopone was excommunicated and imprisoned. Although he acknowledged his mistake, Jacopone was not absolved and released until Benedict XI became pope five years later. He had accepted his imprisonment as penance. He spent the final three years of his life more spiritual than ever, weeping "because Love is not loved." During this time he wrote the famous Latin hymn, <i>Stabat Mater</i>. </p><p>On Christmas Eve in 1306 Jacopone felt that his end was near. He was in a convent of the Poor Clares with his friend, Blessed John of La Verna. Like Francis, Jacopone welcomed "Sister Death" with one of his favorite songs. It is said that he finished the song and died as the priest intoned the Gloria from the midnight Mass at Christmas. From the time of his death, Brother Jacopone has been venerated as a saint.</p> American Catholic Blog By immersing our lives in the rhythm of the season, charity can flood our souls and fill us with the happiness for which we were created. We awake Christmas morning prepared to celebrate the birth of our Savior not as a memory but as a profound experience of God’s redemptive love.

 
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