September 25, 2022

Dear parish family,

The Scripture readings for Mass this Sunday invites us to reflect on the sin of indifference. In our first reading, the prophet Amos vividly describes and roundly denounces the self-indulgent, complacent, and comfortable lifestyle of the wealthy who ‘Lying on ivory beds and sprawling on their divans, they dine on lambs from the flock and stall-fattened veal’, but do not care about the afflictions of the poor (Amos 6:4), He identifies their basic sin as indifference.

In the Gospel reading from St. Luke, Jesus recounts a familiar rich man vs. poor man folk tale, adding fresh and telling nuances. In the parable, the poor man has a name, Lazarus, which means “God will help”, whereas the rich man has no name. Usually, it is the poor who are nameless, while the rich have names, glamor, fame, and fortune. Furthermore, the fortunes of Lazarus and the rich man are reversed. The final destiny of Lazarus is to be “carried away by the angels to the bosom of Abraham”, whereas the rich man ends up “in torment in the netherworld” (Lk 16:22-23). Was the rich man condemned because of his abundant wealth and earthly possessions? Absolutely not. Rather, he was condemned to the place of torment and suffering because he was indifferent to the needs of the poor Lazarus. Like the prophet Amos, Jesus pinpoints indifference as the basic sin of the rich man. Cushioned by his lavish lifestyle, he is utterly oblivious to the presence of the poor man at his gate, starving and ‘covered with sores’ (Lk 16:20). He fails to see Lazarus as a fellow human, a brother, in dire need. The story shows how the worlds of the rich and poor can exist side by side but never meet.

Indifference is perhaps the worst of all sins. It lies at the root of so many other sins of neglect. Indifference does not mean that one is unaware of injustice or oblivious to the needs of the poor. Rather, this attitude says that the situation or person at hand isn’t worth the emotional energy either way. In other words, indifference doesn’t even care. It keeps us small and locked in self-preservation mode. It forces us to settle for less than we were created to be. It numbs our heart and our capacity to feel. It’s the sin that says, “What’s the use?” in the face of anything that involves commitment, perseverance, and sacrifice, which is almost everything that gives life meaning.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is particularly relevant to our time, when the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. We are all aware that the recent dramatic increase in the price of gas and basic food supplies is having dire consequences for everyone, especially the poor. Many are unable to make ends meet. We are also aware of the constant influx of migrants who are arriving to our city. Perhaps you have met some of them right here in our neighborhood. At the meeting with the priests and staffs of parishes in our Deanery this past week, I learned, with great surprise, that several thousands of migrants have been placed in hotels across Astoria by the city government. Most of them arrive with nothing, and many have families and small children. A representative from St. Rita’s Church in Long Island City reported that her parish is completely overwhelmed by the needs of this enormous population. Everyday, people come knocking on the door of the church office pleading for food, clothing, shoes, toiletries, baby products and other social services, which are beyond any one parish’s ability to provide. Their stories have broken my heart.

We may say that this is a problem for the government to solve, but it must be our concern, too, as Christians. We cannot be indifferent to the poverty around us. We are our sisters’ and brothers’ keepers. As St John Chrysostom, that great champion of the poor, reminds us, we cannot celebrate the presence of Christ in the Eucharist without serving Him present in the poor: “Do not pretend to honor Christ in the Church while you neglect him outside where he is cold and naked” (Homily 50, 3-4). Saint John Paul II once urges us, “We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the twentieth century stands at our doors. In the light of the parable of Christ, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility. Riches and freedom create a special obligation.” (Homily at Yankee Stadium, 2 October 1979).

Without going into the debate about who should be responsible for this humanitarian crisis that is a hot-button issue here in our nation, I believe that each one of us has a moral responsibility to assist these brothers and sisters in charity. It is also a unique opportunity for evangelization, which lies at the heart of what we do as Church. For this reason, I am working with the pastors of every parish in our Deanery to plan a special Food Drive throughout Astoria in the coming week. Details will be available to you as soon as we get the green light from organizers. Stay tune for more information in next weekend’s bulletin.

Dear brothers and sisters, as St. Josemaria wrote: “Time is our treasure, the ‘money’ with which to buy eternity” (Furrow, n. 882). May the Word of God this Sunday spur us to move from indifference to compassion. Let us remember that the works of mercy carried out in this life will have a direct consequence in the next, for the love of neighbor is inseparable from, and is the “thermometer” of an authentic love for God.

Devotedly yours in Christ,

Msgr. Cuong M. Pham