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The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Gospel of Eternal Life

Homily of Archbishop Charles Brown

Pontifical Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral New York

September 25, 2022 | 26th Sunday in the Ordinary Time

"Compete well for the faith."

These are words which we just heard in the second reading from St. Paul's First Letter to Timothy. "Compete well for the faith, lay hold of eternal life."

"Compete well for the faith." The more traditional translation of that which all of us would probably know is "Fight the good fight of faith."

"Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold of eternal life, the life of the world to come." In fact, St. Paul says the same thing in the first person in his Second L etter to Timothy, in which he says about himself, "I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith."

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, for me as the Apostolic Nuncio in the Philippines, it gives me so much joy to be with you here in New York City this morning, with many people from the Filipino community to celebrate (in anticipation we can say) the feast day of St. Lorenzo Ruiz, the first canonized saint of the Philippines, whose feast day we will celebrate on Wednesday of this week, on September 28th.

St. Lorenzo Ruiz was from Manila. He was the child of a Chinese father and a Tagalog mother. And he was devout in his Catholic faith. He worked with the Dominican fathers. He was a calligrapher. He was able to write and transcribe different ecclesiastical documents. And then, for a number of reasons, he had to emigrate from the Philippines and ended up going to Okinawa, where he was captured, brought to Nagasaki in Japan in 1637. After being tortured for his Catholic faith, he was martyred.

So this amazing figure, this symbol of Filipino Catholicism, this man who fought the good fight of faith, who laid hold of eternal life, is an inspiration not only for (I can say it) we Filipinos but Filipinos all over the world. Because in a very special way, in a very interesting way, St. Lorenzo Ruiz's image is an example of Filipino Catholicism: deep faith, deep love for Our Lady, and also the experience of emigration.

We have Filipino Catholics all over the world. From capitol city to capitol city, we find communities of Filipino Catholics, and indeed here in the Archdiocese of New York, there's a very thriving San Lorenzo Ruiz community, an association which helps Filipino Catholics to practice their faith, to lay hold of eternal life in imitation of this wonderful saint, Lorenzo Ruiz (who was canonized in 1987, by Saint John Paul II).

"Lay hold of eternal life." That is really the theme of the liturgy this morning and it's also reflected very profoundly in the Gospel that we heard from St. Luke, which all of us have heard before the Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus.

Lazarus, the poor man who laid at the gate of the rich man's house, who never received any help from the rich man. They both die. Lazarus goes into heaven, into the bosom of Abraham; the rich man is in torment in Hades and asks for some help, for some relief from the flames, asked that he might be brought some water. And Abraham, of course, responds to him, saying that that's impossible.

So we see these two, we can say, outcomes of life on earth: damnation, and salvation. Damnation, in the case of the rich man, and salvation, in the case of Lazarus. But to understand this parable of Jesus more profoundly, we have to remember that it comes in the Gospel of St. Luke in the 16th chapter right after another parable. Another parable which kind of gives us the interpretive key for understanding the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus. And what is that parable that I'm referring to (which, of course, we didn't hear this morning because it is in the Gospel before the section that we read)? And it's the story or the parable of the dishonest manager or the dishonest administrator. What is that parable? Maybe some of you remember it?

Jesus talks about a situation where there was a manager and administrator who worked for a rich man, and he was about to get fired. He knew his boss was going to fire him. So what did he do? He called in all his bosses' debtors and had them change in their accounts how much they owed his boss. And why did he do this? He did this so that when he was fired, he'd have people who were his friends who would take care of him. And Jesus gives us very interesting parable. It's certainly not a parable that we want to apply to business ethics in New York City. No one wants to be accused of falsifying the accounts of our boss. But Jesus gives us this parable, and he summarizes it by saying, "Look how shrewd this worldly guy was, how crafty he was. He made friends for himself using his boss's money so that when he would be fired, he'd have someone to take care of him.” Jesus says this, "The children of this world (that means worldly people) are more shrewd in dealing with their own than are the children of light,” (which is us, the Christians). Then he says this (and this is the important line) "use worldly wealth to make friends for yourselves, so that when it fails, when it's gone, they will welcome you into eternal dwellings." That's the message Jesus gives us. Use worldly wealth to make friends for yourself, just like that guy did, the dishonest steward, in a worldly way. You do it so that people will welcome you into the eternal dwellings.

How interesting is that? And that's what the Gospel is all about today. Two men who died: the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man who did absolutely nothing for Lazarus who lay at his gate. And the rich man who finds himself then in torment. Lazarus in heaven. Had the rich man taken care of Lazarus, Lazarus would have been there to receive Him into heaven. That is the point. Had the rich man done something good for poor Lazarus, Lazarus would be there at the gate with St. Peter saying, "Let this fellow in, he took care of me."

And the details of the Gospel are very interesting, which we just heard. This Gospel of the rich man and Lazarus. First of all, the names are interesting. So in the Gospel, two people have names: Abraham, of course, who's in heaven. Lazarus has a name. But the rich man has no name. He's just the rich guy. He's not named. What this shows is how God's ways are different from our ways. Because all of us know the names of the rich people. Right? And nobody knows the names of the poor people. But God's ways are the opposite. There's a reversal of fortune in heaven in which the poor have a name: Lazarus. The rich guy? He's just the rich guy. He has no name. That's a very interesting detail.

And another detail is the contrast between closeness and distance in the Gospel. Because little Lazarus is there, as they say, “in the bosom of Abraham”, next to Abraham. What does that really mean? It means he's kind of being hugged by Abraham in heaven, whereas the rich man is all alone. And between the rich man and Lazarus and Abraham, there is (as the Gospel says) a great chasm, meaning a great emptiness, a huge empty space. Nothing in it between the rich man in agony and Lazarus and Abraham in paradise. That chasm is very interesting because, just like in this world, there was a chasm in a certain sense between the rich man and Lazarus. A chasm, a distance, the rich man did nothing to close. So that distance remains in heaven.

It's very interesting also the details of communication in the Gospel. If you've listened carefully to the Gospel this morning, you see that the rich man never speaks to Lazarus. He speaks to Abraham, and he says, "Abraham, tell Lazarus to come and give me some water" or "Send Lazarus to my family on Earth to warn them.” There's no direct communication between the rich man and Lazarus. Why? Because there was no direct communication between them on this earth before. Because no communication was established when the rich man, maybe, stepped across him to get into his carriage on the front door of his house. No communication then, no communication later. Distance then, distance later.

So what is all of this telling us? We need to be friends to the poor, to the outcast, to the marginalized, the people that no one is taking care of, not necessarily to change them or to completely change their situation of life but simply to be their friend, to show them some love. Because when we come to the end, it will be they who are standing there with St. Peter saying, "This one gave me a hamburger or a dollar bill; let him in."

That's the Gospel's message for us today, the Gospel of Eternal Life. Lay hold of eternal life by loving the poor, by being close to the poor. And this of course, is what Pope Francis has been emphasizing during his pontificate. Pope Francis, who was so happy last year to celebrate 500 years of Christianity in the Philippines. Five hundred years since the arrival of the Christian Catholic faith in the Philippines in 1521. Five hundred years of evangelization. Five hundred years in which the Catholic faith has deeply penetrated the culture of the Philippines.

I can tell you as one who has been in the Philippines now for two years. I was appointed as nuncio in the Philippines on the feast day of St. Lorenzo Ruiz two years ago 28th of September. And being there helps me to see how beautifully inculturated the faith is in the Philippines with all the wonderful devotions, most famous of which, of course, is the Santo Nino. The Santo Nino who is this beautiful image of the baby child, Jesus.

Pope Francis spoke about the Filipinos as the contrabbandieri della fede. What does it mean, "the contrabanders of faith", "the smugglers of faith"? Filipinos who are smuggling and bringing faith all over the world. And that is a great witness to the fruitfulness of Philippine Catholicism.

Let me close by asking you to remember to pray for the Philippines, especially today, where Super Typhoon Noru or Karding (as it is called in the Philippines) is afflicting, especially Luzon. So this is a constant problem in the Philippines. We need to pray for everyone in the Philippines, especially today, we're facing the problem of this super typhoon.

Let's remember, brothers and sisters, to lay hold of eternal life, to be close to the poor, to be friends of the poor. Because by doing that, they will welcome us into the heavenly dwellings.

And finally, we ask Our Lady, the Mother of God, the Mother of the Poor, to intercede for us and to intercede for all the Christians throughout the world, especially those in the Philippines. God bless you.

Transcribed by Gel Katalbas

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