One of my favorite cartoon characters growing up was Scrooge McDuck. Who wouldn’t love his top hat, his vaguely Scottish accent, and his giant bank full of gold coins that he could dive into like a swimming pool? I would watch Scrooge in the cartoon Duck Tales every afternoon at 4:00. But Scrooge McDuck also starred in the Disney adaptation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, in which he is confronted by the ghost of Christmas past, present, and future. The ghosts show him the times he was mean to the poor, and the consequences for his eternal destination, should he not amend his life.
Sounds familiar… I think Dickens had a pen in one hand and the gospel of Luke in the other!
Today Jesus’ parable warns against comforts of the world and ignoring the poor around us. This parable, together with last week’s parable of the dishonest steward, give us the occasion to reflect on what we know as Catholic Social Doctrine, or the teaching of the Church on how we achieve peace and justice in society. Catholic Social Doctrine has seven main principles, but I’m just going to touch on a few of those today.
The rich man in the parable ignores the poor man, Lazarus, because he doesn’t recognize him as another person, worthy of love and a sharer in human dignity.
- Human Dignity
- Every human being, from the greatest to the least, is endowed with dignity. Every human being, rich, poor, able-bodied or handicapped, is made in the image and likeness of God. We are not permitted to push anyone aside or ignore them because they are poor or disabled. They have same human dignity as the rest of us.
- And because we are equal in dignity, and we all live on this earth together, we have the next principle:
- The Universal Destination of Goods
- As I mentioned last week, the goods of the earth are given for all humanity to share, we individuals who have wealth are called to share it with those who do not.
- In the parable, the rich man doesn’t see his obligation to help poor Lazarus. Now, the rich man probably earned his wealth, investing wisely and working hard. That brings us to the principle of…
- Private Property
- Yes, we have a right to be paid for our labors, and a right to private property. And that is right and just. It is according to natural justice that we can own property and we receive a just wage for our labors. That is on the natural level.
- “But I worked hard for my money! I have saved for years to get where I am today.”
- Yes, but consider that even the money we earn is thanks to the training and education that others provided for us.
- And the crops that grow from the earth, they only grow because God has created plants to produce fruit, grain and fibers, and He created the earth and rain to nourish them. And so, through the combination of God’s providence and our hard work, we reap the goods of the earth. We didn’t do it all on our own. That brings us to the principle of…
- The truth is that none of us is a “self-made man,” completely independent, someone who doesn’t need anybody else, one who picks himself up by his boot-straps.
- Instead, we live in a society because human beings are created to be interdependent, social creatures. It’s in our nature.
- So if each one of us is created to live in common with others, it follows that even the poor are created to live in common with others. Who are we to exclude them from society? This is where the teaching of solidarity comes from. Specifically, solidarity with the poor.
5. Preferential option for the poor
- There are poor around us, even here in Hill County. And we are called by our Lord to reach out to them. The Church exists for them, and desires for them to be counted among her members.
- And this call goes beyond justice, which is on the natural level. The call is to…
- On the supernatural level, we have mercy. Consider the corporal works of mercy: feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, visit the sick and imprisoned. These are not things we are obligated to do by civil law. It’s not like we even owe the hungry or the imprisoned anything, according to justice. But according to mercy—ah, that’s where Christian action is rooted. In mercy and love. This is what St. Paul was talking about in his 1st letter to the Corinthians, “I will show you a more excellent way.” It is the way of love. It’s supernatural. It takes justice as a foundation and then goes beyond it.
Still not convinced? Well, OK, Father, that all sounds nice. Consider how God himself deals with us poor sinners. In justice, not one of us is righteous enough to merit Heaven. We can’t earn Heaven, because we’re a fallen race. It is literally only by the grace of God that we can get there. Through the waters of Baptism we are made sharers in the inheritance of God’s Kingdom. God didn’t have to do that! In justice, we all deserve to die and to be punished for all our sins. But God, who is perfect in justice, actually goes beyond justice into mercy!
To illustrate the relationship between justice and mercy, I like to think of the 1984 movie, This is Spinal Tap. (As a disclaimer, This is Spinal Tap is not a movie for children.) In this comedy, filmed in the style of a documentary, the reporter is following a British rock band that is past their prime. In the movie’s most famous scene, they enter a music shop, and they’re looking at amplifiers.
The shopkeeper says, “oh, I really like this one, because, as you can see, the volume knob on this one goes to 11. Most blokes will be playing with it turned all the way up to 10, and then, if you want it louder, where can you go? You can’t. But this one gives you just that little bit more.”
The reporter answers, “Well, why don’t you just make the 10 louder, and make 10 the top number?”
“But, these go to 11.”
And that’s like God’s mercy. It’s as if He’s turned the justice knob all the way up to 10, and then, when you didn’t think it was possible, He turned up to 11. That’s mercy. It is the completion of justice, and in fact it goes beyond it.
Through God’s superabundant mercy we have received grace upon grace and now we can have access to Heaven again! That’s how God deals with us poor sinners.
And so, we, who are God’s children, are destined to grow up to be like our Father. We are called to practice works of mercy, especially the corporal works of mercy, which go beyond justice.
Now it’s homework time: This week, when you encounter the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the imprisoned, the traveller, the immigrant, I challenge you to do more than justice. Do mercy. Turn it up to 11.