Mgr Francesco Follo, 17 Déc. 2018 © Mgr Francesco Follo

Archbishop Follo: Living Like a Rich Person Makes One Blind

With the invitation to understand that Christian for poverty man has, first of all, to intend freedom from things and defeat of greed.

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Roman Rite

XXVI Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C- September 29, 2019

Am 6: 1A, 4-7; Tm 6:11-16; Lk 16:19-31

The poor saves the rich


Ambrosian Rite

V Sunday after Saint John’s Martyrdom

Is 56:1-7; Ps 118; Rm 15:2-7; Lk 6:27-38

Love your enemies


1) The rich have no name and does not see.

Before commenting the parable of today’s Gospel which presents poor Lazarus and the rich glutton[1], I’d like to point out that this rich man is not condemned because he is violent or an oppressor but simply because he lives ignoring the poor. This consideration is completed by the second part of the parable where on stage are the brothers who continue to live carefree in their wealth. It is precisely their rich living that makes them blind to the poor, even if the beggar is at their front door, and blind to the Holy Scriptures where Moses and prophets have expressed themselves in very clear words. The rich man does not deny God and does not oppress the poor Lazarus; he simply does not see him with the eyes of the heart. Here is the great danger of wealth, and this is perhaps the main lesson of the parable. The rich man would like his brothers to be warned. But what would be the point of warning them? They already have the prophets and Moses, nothing else is needed. It is not the voices that are missing nor the verifications, but the freedom to understand and the lucidity to see.

It is also important to note that the rich «glutton» has no name and is confident in the same way as all the carefree are. The poor man always has a name … his name is Lazarus and, covered with sores, he dwells at the rich man’s door, eager to feed himself with what falls from the rich man’s table. Even today, unfortunately, it is like this: few rich and many poor people crouched at the doors of an opulent civilization. But with faith things change: the dead Lazarus is carried by the angels next to Abraham. On the contrary, the rich man is in the fire of hell. The Gospel makes us understand the contrast between heaven and earth, between before and after. It is necessary to recover the time of our life to listen to Moses and the Prophets, and to strive, as men of God, for justice, piety, faith, charity, patience, and meekness.

It is good to remember that we are all poor before the table of God. And Jesus is our King. He is a poor king, the king of those who are God’s poor (anawim). The Redeemer is the king of the anawim, of those whose hearts are free from the greed for power and material wealth, and from the will and the search for dominion over the other.

Jesus is the king of those who have the inner freedom which makes them capable of overcoming greed, the selfishness that exists in the world. They know that God alone is their wealth. Jesus is a poor king among the poor, meek among those who want to be myths. He is king of peace, thanks to the power of God-Charity which is the power of good and the power of love. He is a king who does not use wagons or battle horses but breaks the bows of war.

Christ is a king who realizes peace on the Cross, joining earth and heaven and casting a fraternal bridge between all men. The Cross is the new arc of peace, a sign and the instrument of reconciliation, forgiveness, and understanding, a sign that love is stronger than all violence and all oppression, stronger than death: evil is won with good and with love.

2) A lesson to live the present and a bewildering command

Let us now examine more closely the liturgy of the Word of this Sunday. The first reading and the gospel of the Roman Liturgy narrating the parable of the poor Lazarus and of the rich glutton, indicate how to live the present. They don’t have the aim of terrifying us regarding the future punishment if we do not behave. These texts from the Bible tell us that those who look only for their overabundance cannot worry about their brothers in need and cannot recognize the Son of God in the poor Lazarus. Lazarus is Christ who has suffered all our pain and who has the wounds of the crucified love. He is at our door and waits.

Let’s contemplate the scene narrated by Christ. We see a rich man without name (or better his name is wealth) and a second man named Lazarus[2] (= the one helped by God because he has nothing). Both men are under the gaze of the Almighty, but they receive His presence in a different way.

The first doesn’t need it; he is so well off that he can enjoy –independently from God – a life with abundant banquets and elegant garments. The other has no one except God; he doesn’t have anything to eat and his body is covered in sores. Nobody goes near him, only the dogs approach and console him.

Let’s now have a look at ourselves: we too have sores that we can hide under our riches, but God knows them. These sores make us lie on the ground and implore heaven. They sharpen our hunger for completeness and are “loopholes” that open us to the Mystery. We are blessed when we strongly miss being “poor” because this is the truth of our being. We are poor but let’s not deny it to ourselves so that it disguises what we are; if we do not put ourselves at God’s level, we think that we can do without him. What do we have that we didn’t receive from Him? Let’s remember that the kingdom of heaven is ours because we are poor of heart, we are children, we are men and women … like Jesus… for this reason we are “rich,” rich of His love, rich of having God as Father.

Then we will be able to do the impossible: “to love our enemies” (as we are remembered in today’s Gospel of the Ambrosian liturgy).

A monk from Mount Athos comments this stupefying command of Christ: “There are men that wish suffering and agony in the eternal fire to their enemies and to the enemies of the Church.  Thinking in this way they don’t know God’s love. The one who has the love and the humility of Christ cries and prays for the entire world. Maybe you say: this one is an evildoer and he must burn in the eternal flame. Let me ask you: let’s suppose that the Master gives you a place in his kingdom. If you see burning in the eternal fire the one to whom you have wished eternal suffering, would you not have compassion for him even if he had been an enemy of the Church? Do you have a heart of stone? In the Kingdom of Heaven, there is no room for stones. There are required the humility and the heart of Christ who has mercy of everybody” He ends with this prayer:” Master, as you have prayed for your enemies, teach us through the Holy Spirit to love them and even to pray for them. However, it is a difficult thing for us sinners if your grace is not with us.”

Let’s look at Saint Francis of Assisi who was poor and humble because there is nothing greater than to learn the humility and the begging of Christ (Lazarus is the symbol of Jesus, mendicant of love). The humble lives poor and happy, all is good to his heart. Only those who are humble and poor of heart see God in the Holy Spirit. Humility is the light in which we see God who is the light: in his light we see light. Our dawn “dies” in God’s day.

3) Death is not a level, it is a scale

              This counterbalance is seen in the second part of the parable where the parts are inverted: now the rich at the bottom and Lazarus is high up. Death shows that the Kingdom of God has won. When one dies, he opens his eyes. Death is the time when we see things as they really are. Death is the dramatic door that allows the sunset of our human dawn to “die” in the light of the everlasting day of God.

Now come on stage also the other five brothers of the rich man (the sixth brother) who continue to live “carefree” in their riches. It is their way of living that makes them blind in front of the “seventh” (seven is a number that is the symbol of completeness) brother (Jesus) who is near, just over the door through which they don’t want to look because there sits the wounded poor. They are blind in front of the Holy Scriptures (that yet are very clear).

The rich man of this parable doesn’t oppose God and doesn’t oppress the poor; he just doesn’t see him and lives as if God doesn’t exist or has anything to do with him.

Now the rich man asks the poor for a drop of water for himself and to warn his brothers. What good would do to warn them? They have the prophets and Moses and don’t need anything else. There are not the voices that are missed, not the evidences, but the freedom to understand and the clear mind to see. It is the way of living as a rich man that makes blind.

The way to the Cross is a road of light that takes to Heaven. This road has a name: mercy, with lot of synonyms: charity, pity, compassion, sharing, solidarity, communion, unity, welcoming, participation and assumption.

The road that takes to Heaven is called Christ. There are no other ways. There are no other roads. There are no other lanes. It is a love pure, true, real, spiritual, made of concreteness and of the gift of one’s life and riches that takes to Heaven. This is the road followed by the consecrated Virgins. On the day of their consecration the Bishop prayed: “Give them the warmth of love to love you above all others. Make their lives deserve praise without seeking to be praised. May they give you glory by holiness of action and purity of heart. May they love you and fear you; may they love you and serve you. Be you their glory, their joy, their whole desire. Be their comfort in sorrow, their wisdom in perplexity, their protection in the mist of justice.” (Rite of the Consecration of the virgins)

[1] The Latin word used for glutton comes from epulae= food and epulum= banquet. In the pagan Roman world, the noun indicated every member of the sacerdotal College who oversaw the organization of a solemn banquet on the occasion of the sacrifices in honor of Jupiter. In the Christian world, referring to the main character of a well-known parable, indicates a rich and selfish person, a glutton.

[2] We don’t know the female version of the name. Its origins are very old, and it has come to us through the transformation of the Jewish word El’azar, made of El which is the short name for God and ‘azar which means to help. Lazarus means “God helps, God provides.”  The general meaning is a form of thanksgiving to God.

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Mgr Francesco Follo

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