Saturday, October 2, 2010

Where do we find Lazarus today?

The Korean Catholic press is showing an  interest in the Social Gospel that many feel should have been stressed more in the catechumenate. The teaching on spirituality may have been overly stressed so that the social aspects of the Gospel were not appreciated as much as the private devotional aspects. Effort is now being made to see the whole of the Gospel, looking beyond the personal and individual spirituality to the community and the world.

A newsletter for priests ran an article that asked a question many young people ask concerning the teaching of the Church on the morality of acquiring as much wealth as possible. What should we think of persons who through their own efforts and ability have large and beautiful houses, expensive cars, and have the material comforts that most of us do not have? Is there any degree of wealth accumulation that we can say is too much? Is it merely jealousy on the part of those without these benefits, a discrimination by the not-wealthy against the wealthy?

The writer claims the Church is also helping to propagate acceptance of this inequality by having parishes that are wealthy and can afford to have many and varied programs while having parishes that, for lack of funds, even have to cut back on snacks for students. It's an unjust situation that the writer feels should be corrected.

The Catholic Kyeongyang magazine last year reported how Bolivia has been trying to correct a long-standing injustice in that country. A member of the  Bishop's committee of Korea  described how the president of Bolivia  took land, 150 times the size of Yoido, away from five cattle farmers and gave it to those who were working in slave-like conditions for the cattle farmers; now the land was theirs. But much of the inequality  that is sanctioned by the government is still in place: The wealth of 100 Bolivian families is five times the wealth of 2 million of their poor. Most of the rich and powerful,  those responsible for the injustice in that country, the writer surmises, are undoubtedly Catholics going to Mass in their best attire, in their expensive automobiles, and asking for salvation.

This may seem like a parody of the reality, but it is the situation in many parts of the world. The Church has a very elaborate  teaching on the issues of social justice, but it is not always easy to speak on issues of this type when the government of a country is solidly in the hands of the perpetrators of the injustice. There are two extremes with which the Church has to contend when dealing with  injustice: Those who want to correct the problem as soon as possible, which brings up the question of possible violence--although violence is not an  option for a Christian, preparing the ground for change appears to many to foster violence, the feared consequences, some believed, of Liberation Theology--and, at the other extreme, those who want to change the unjust conditions with prayer, good works and alms.

This past week we heard many sermons on Lazarus the beggar. The rich are thought not to need others, while Lazarus needed  the crumbs from the rich man's table.  It is rather clear from the different parables that the rich have the temptation to go it alone,  they may even forget God, while the poor cannot so easily forget they are dependent on others. Acknowledging our dependence on others can lead to a healthy spirituality which will, hopefully, sensitize us to the plight of the poor and motivate us to change the conditions leading to poverty, or at least to lesson the burden until conditions can be changed.

Some countries, according to a recent news report, are doing this already by asking for a tax that will be earmarked for the poor. And here in our country, yesterday's newspaper reported that the government has earmarked 28 percent of the budget, the highest in history, for welfare.  We are, as a nation, becoming more conscious of those who do not partake of the good life. It's a healthy sign for the future.

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