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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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Charles de Foucauld: Born into an aristocratic family in Strasbourg, France, Charles was orphaned at the age of six, raised by his devout grandfather, rejected the Catholic faith as a teenager and joined the French army. Inheriting a great deal of money from his grandfather, Charles went to Algeria with his regiment, but not without his mistress, Mimi. <br /><br />When he declined to give her up, he was dismissed from the army. Still in Algeria when he left Mimi, Charles reenlisted in the army. Refused permission to make a scientific exploration of nearby Morocco, he resigned from the service. With the help of a Jewish rabbi, Charles disguised himself as a Jew and in 1883 began a one-year exploration that he recorded in a book that was well received. <br /><br />Inspired by the Jews and Muslims whom he met, Charles resumed the practice of his Catholic faith when he returned to France in 1886. He joined a Trappist monastery in Ardeche, France, and later transferred to one in Akbes, Syria. Leaving the monastery in 1897, Charles worked as gardener and sacristan for the Poor Clare nuns in Nazareth and later in Jerusalem. In 1901 he returned to France and was ordained a priest. <br /><br />Later that year Charles journeyed to Beni-Abbes, Morocco, intending to found a monastic religious community in North Africa that offered hospitality to Christians, Muslims, Jews, or people with no religion. He lived a peaceful, hidden life but attracted no companions. <br /><br />A former army comrade invited him to live among the Tuareg people in Algeria. Charles learned their language enough to write a Tuareg-French and French-Tuareg dictionary, and to translate the Gospels into Tuareg. In 1905 he came to Tamanrasset, where he lived the rest of his life. A two-volume collection of Charles' Tuareg poetry was published after his death. <br /><br />In early 1909 he visited France and established an association of laypeople who pledged to live by the Gospels. His return to Tamanrasset was welcomed by the Tuareg. In 1915 Charles wrote to Louis Massignon: “The love of God, the love for one’s neighbor…All religion is found there…How to get to that point? Not in a day since it is perfection itself: it is the goal we must always aim for, which we must unceasingly try to reach and that we will only attain in heaven.”   <br /><br />The outbreak of World War I led to attacks on the French in Algeria. Seized in a raid by another tribe, Charles and two French soldiers coming to visit him were shot to death on December 1, 1916. <br />Five religious congregations, associations, and spiritual institutes (Little Brothers of Jesus, Little Sisters of the Sacred Heart, Little Sisters of Jesus, Little Brothers of the Gospel and Little Sisters of the Gospel) draw inspiration from the peaceful, largely hidden, yet hospitable life that characterized Charles. He was beatified on November 13, 2005. American Catholic Blog You know, O my God, I have never desired anything but to love you, and I am ambitious for no other glory.


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