Homily for September 29, 2019
Twenty-Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
I have never met any famous people. Never met the Pope, or movie star, or pop artist. The only professional athletes I’ve ever met were pretty obscure, not household names. I’ve never shaken hands with a celebrity or been to lunch with a CEO. But I do know Miriam.
Miriam is the mother of 12 kids (which should qualify her for canonization right there!). She lives a simple life, homeschooling her kids during the day and visiting the local Adoration chapel at night. She is blessed to get to daily Mass, leads her family in the Rosary, and lives simply. She has also been arrested a couple times for praying too close to an abortion clinic, and has illustrated several Catholic children’s books. But in the eyes of the world, Miriam is not and will never be famous or powerful.
But I am privileged to know her because she is a living saint. She may not be much in the eyes of the world, but she is precious in the eyes of God.
Three things stand out to me in today’s Gospel. First, notice that the rich man isn’t even named, while we know the poor man as Lazarus. For all his wealth and influence, in the afterlife he is completely forgotten. But the poor man who lived virtuously is remembered for his deeds.
Second, notice how things look quite different in the eyes of eternity. In this life, riches and popularity and influence seem desirable. Many of us crave them! We work to amass our riches, we seek to become more famous. But how desirable are those riches in eternity? Where is that influence now? They only led to misery, since they became an idol to the rich man. It was the virtuous man who, while suffering poverty and rejection in this life, enjoys the glories of Heaven.
Finally, did you notice the intentional irony that Jesus uses at the end of the Gospel? The rich man asks that Lazarus go to his family to convince them to live a better life, but Abraham responds, “They will not believe even if someone rises from the dead.” The irony is that Jesus WILL raise a man named Lazarus from the dead (a story we are all familiar with!) and yet people STILL do not believe in Him – both the Jews in Jesus’ time, and many people nowadays!
So what’s our practical takeaway from today’s Gospel? The big takeaway is that we ought to be more concerned about leaving a legacy of holiness and virtue than a legacy of riches and popularity. We live in a world of hype – get 1,000 followers on Instagram, be the best-looking or the best athlete with the biggest contract…There are entire classes of people called “social media influencers” who have so many followers on social media that they can promote a product and everyone will go and buy it. But, will any of that matter in eternity? From the perspective of eternity, what will matter? as Archbishop Charles Chaput said, “The only people who really change the world are saints.” Being good-looking or rich or having a thousand Instagram followers will make us awesome in the eyes of the world – but a life of holiness will make us beautiful in the eyes of God. Which one would you rather be?
A close corollary is that in eternity, what we will value will be quite different from what the world values. The people we look down upon will be considered far, far more glorious than we could ever imagine.
St. Germaine Cousins is one of those saints who was profoundly looked down upon on this earth. She was born with a deformed hand and a skin disease. Her mother died in childbirth and because of her deformities and disease, her stepmother forced her to live out back in the barn. She never received a bit of kindness from her stepmother or her other siblings, and was forced to endure the cold winters and hot summers and loneliness, with only bread and water as her sustenance. Yet she never complained, and would speak kindly to her cruel stepmother (sounds like a Catholic Cinderella, right?). She attended daily Mass and prayed the Rosary frequently, and would often give her meager bread to beggars. Because of her intense love for the Lord, miracles started happening around her – at times the swollen river would part so she could attend Mass, and when she would be off at Mass, she would plant her shepherd’s crook in the ground and no sheep ever wandered away. People began to notice her holiness and came to her for advice, even though she was only in her late teens! Finally, her stepmother relented and allowed her back in the house, but she refused, wanting to offer her sufferings as penance for sinners. She died at the age of 22. We now know the name of this great saint who achieved profound holiness while living in a backyard shed.
And the name of her cruel stepmother? Lost to history.
What will your legacy be?