Last week’s Gospel passage ended with Jesus telling us that we cannot serve both “God and Mammon” We see today what happens if we chose Mammon. Mammon means wealth and prosperity for its own sake. For Luke if wealth is our basic aim then he more we get, the less we are.
He shows this with his customary artistry by referring only to “a rich Man”. He does not even name him. Lazarus is given the dignity of a name indeed a very noble one “God has helped”. History has added insult to injury and called the rich Man “Dives”, Latin for rich man. There was nothing else left of him but a vessel for vulgar appetites.
Luke takes delight in emphasizing the vulgarity. Purple was the most expensive color to produce and a person needed permission to wear it. Wearing it all the time was showing off, like a Bishop wearing a miter at dinner. Dining sumptuously every day and not just at feasts showed gluttony: a most unappealing vice.
Contrast that to what Jesus told his host earlier in Luke’s Gospel “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. (Lk 14:12).
For his disobedience to God’s wishes the rich man finds himself in the “netherworld” the land of death and darkness but sees Lazarus in paradise. And there will be wailing and grinding of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves cast out. (Lk 13:28).
Here the rich man truly reveals his emptiness by astonishing arrogance. Lazarus is in glory and yet he does not even address him directly but asks Abraham to send him with some water. His imagination itself has been robbed by Mammon. Luke once more shows his artistry. The Rich Man knew Lazarus well enough to know his name but was not moved enough to help him in any way. He had denied Lazarus his humanity on earth but now he will face the consequences in Hades: But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.5 But woe to you who are filled now, for you will be hungry. Lk 6:24–25
This year we have seen many a Lazarus on our boarders. There are images that will haunt us. Babies being separated from their parents in May and Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his two year old daughter Valaria drowned in the Rio Grande in June.
There is no denying that immigration is a complicated issue and that reform will be difficult. This is beyond the competence of any single individual. Yet as we saw when reviewing Catholic Social teaching last Fall any legislation that destroys the family requires resistance.
Today, a staff member of Catholic Charities of Brooklyn and Queens who went to Tucson Arizona to help institute a center for eight families in distress will address us about this effort.
I’m happy to introduce John Gonzales, director of community relations for Brooklyn for Catholic Charities.
Thank you, Father Smith. My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, good morning!
I wanted to again thank you for giving me this opportunity to share the experience that I had in Arizona, in Tucson with a place called Casa Alitas, where our Catholic Charities systems in Arizona – every diocese in America has a Catholic Charities – had appealed for help, and they appealed through with call Catholic Charities USA responding.
So early in August, I was one of those who was shipped out to help with the asylee community and I’m going to enter, share some of those inside contexts that Father just did. Father offers, of course, the scripture and the gospel context and the situation with Lazarus and the Rich Man to help us look at this issue from those lenses. I would also want to suggest an added context comes from our own Pope Francis. Today is the World Day of Migrants and Refugees – happens to be September 29th that is today, and the pope offers a message, and the title of this message – I think it’s a very curious one but and at first I thought it was odd, but actually I discovered in reading was quite deep – and it’s called, “It Is Not Just About Migrants.”
I just want to read this one short paragraph – he says the presence of migrants and refugees and of vulnerable people in general – is an invitation to recover some of those essential dimensions of our Christian existence and our humanity that risks being overlooked in a prosperous society. That is why it’s not just about migrants. When we show concern for them, we also show concern for ourselves, for everyone, and taking care of them we all grow. In listening to them, we also give voice to a part of ourselves that we may have kept hidden because it is not well regarded nowadays. That comes from the message for today from Pope Francis.
And so, there I am early in August going out to Arizona, and Casa Alitas was very chaotic that week. And the reason was they just opened a juvenile detention center, and so the families that we were receiving – and they were all families by the way not individuals – ICE in their detention centers, validates their stories, calling their sponsoring family, so ICE does their homework and making sure they are valid cases. We don’t get to see them until they are deemed so. They bus them from Nogalas, the border, to Tucson, Arizona and there we receive them, it was but an hour and a half drive, and that’s what, you know, as we received them, we were given on that day I got there in a Sunday – a detention center . So we were concerned, we were concerned for their dignity. Here we are calling ourselves a Welcome Center, and offering them the exact same type of environment that they had come from. So the community was at the forefront. Catholic Charities is not alone, that was a number of Christian, particularly Protestant communities who allied themselves with Catholic Charities, to offer whatever contributions and furnishings and everything to help them make this a more welcoming center.
So it was a chaotic week to get this place looking like something that could have a place for children to play in, a place for, you know books and resources for kids and for families, and for the rooms to be going, to have some type of dignity. To be honest with you, when we did this, we thought of their dignity. We thought, here we are helping you. We wanted, we want to give you this opportunity.
Later, we really started discovering that if our goal is to develop a relationship, if we are to do with Catholic Social teaching tells us to be in solidarity with them, we have to be able to accompany them and in being able to express their dignity we are doing nothing else but to express our dignity as well. When we dehumanize individuals, we end up dehumanizing ourselves, whether we know it or not. The inverse is also true. When we express dignity to others, we also express our own dignity to them and we’re able to relate with them in true solidarity, at that point can take place.
So, let me share with you, because this quote that I picked from Pope Francis tells us that we learn, we learn from when we accompany. We learn, we learn with solidarity.
Indeed, there’s many families that I encountered during that week, and one of them stand to mind. Many of the mothers that I saw had quite a bit of fear, quite a bit of concern. They were taking a step into the unknown, and then when they were concerned about them. Many of the families that I call throughout the United States are sponsoring family were equally concerned for their family members. They wanted desperately to buy a plane ticket to have so and so go up to New England rather than take a bus, but we couldn’t allow them because they didn’t have the documents, so all we could get them was on a bus for a four day journey.
As you can imagine, families were very concerned about this, so were we. We were very diligent and making sure that we went over the entire journey with and then I’ll go over the towns they were going to, to go over something, which phrases that would help them on the journey. We’re very diligent with that and for the most part we encountered a pretty good reception, pretty good understanding.
There was one mother, however, that I saw that concerned me greatly, because as I was explaining the situation, I got a sense it wasn’t, it wasn’t getting through to her. She wasn’t understanding. I got a lot of silent nods or yes, yes, yes, and then I finally, I don’t think she’s getting it. And what I did was, I asked her a question, “So the next stop is where?”, she didn’t know what was going on. I was very concerned. This is not good.
Well, she had a 13 year old boy, and this boy surprised the daylights out of me. He, I, he was respecting the fact that I was, I usually address the parent – that’s typically what you do when you look to the adult – and okay I’m going to, I’m going to engage a conversation with the adult, and he knew that and he stayed back and let you know for a while, but it was his mother who eventually looked at him and said,”okay, can you help me, because I don’t know what’s going on.” I was speaking in Spanish, mind you. It was she just didn’t have almost a context for what she was doing.
But this boy came out of left field and took command and we talked and we talked and he asked questions. This is not a passive individual. He wanted to know not only the cities that he was going to, he wants to know how to pronounce them in good American, you know because something and also instead of it was going to get away with “Tuk-son”, that’s just how many of them say it, you pronounce it as Tucson, let’s go with that, and the next day the same thing. He came up wanting to learn these phrases, let me learn them in English, but how do you pronounce this, how do you pronounce that.
He wanted to know everything. He wanted to know about our culture, you know. I took pride in being a New Yorker. He was going to go to and his mother were going to go to a Mid Atlantic state, but he wanted to know what that was about, to eat you know the cuisine, what are non taco cuisine of hamburgers and hot dogs and all they just wanted to soak it all up.
Brothers and sisters, what I would like to share with you is this boy, in his eyes, and when I took him finally the second time to the bus station, and I had to say goodbye and he asked questions to the very end, just say on the ride over the bus station, so he got a sense not only from me, but from others that we New Yorkers drive different then the folks down there in Arizona. And all that he wanted to sit in the driver’s seat, no, passenger’s seat to drive. It usually takes a half hour, we’ll get there in fifteen minutes. So don’t worry, I was careful, maybe a little fast, but I was careful and good form.
But as I said goodbye to him and we went through some more English words and some more English phrases right up to the end, I’ve seen some of those videos of the old immigrant communities that came over here. Our story, our story in the late 1800s – early 1900s. Probablly still have you and your stories as well, and I got to see through him through Paco. Ironically his name is Pacito. And I got to see the hope, the trust, and the belief in an opportunity that our nation was going to be able to to provide him. He was a hopeful person and it made me think, it made me think about our current reality. is American. How much we have a certain pessimism , we have mistrust, we have division, we have fear. So it uplifted my spirit to see the ongoing immigrant story of hope and opportunity that we remember, that we read about it and that if you go down there, you will actually see and we can actually live.
And so his face and his departure on the train reminded me of a stanza in a poem and I want to end this right now with this because I believe in this again, through my experience back in August. Langston Hughes writes, “Let America be America again / :et it be the dream that used to be / Let it be the pioneer on the plain / seeking a home where he himself is free.
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ, in the coming weeks we hope to continue having this form of solidarity and accompaniment we are looking at some possibilities or how we can be more connected and how our Parish Community here can be connected to the families that are being served over in Arizona. I don’t have anything to say concrete right now. This is a delicate matter insofar as the politics changes, as you can appreciate so we’re very attentive to something that’s going to be very good very concrete. We’re just a family down there. I will be sure to pass the information out to your pastor, to all the pastors and their parishes so that we can offer a real solidarity between our communities.
Thank you again for allowing me to share, and God bless you.