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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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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988. Pope Francis canonized him in Washington, D.C., on September 23, 2015.</p> American Catholic Blog Hope and faith can outshine the darkness of evil. However dense the darkness may appear, our hope for the triumph of the light is stronger still. Though violence continues to stain us with blood, the shadows of death can be dissipated with one act of light.

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