Social Justice Sunday 2013

Decrease font size
Increase font size
Print this page
Home > Archbishop > Homilies > Social Justice Sunday 2013

Twenty Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Social Justice Sunday 2013

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ. At every Mass we listen to the Word of God read to us from the Scriptures proposed by the Church.

The Word of God often is a source of encouragement or solace for us. We may be struggling and we hear a word which touches our pained spirits. We hear of God’s love that encourages us to struggle on in the midst of our trials.
It can be a source of inspiration. We can listen to the Scriptures and they call us forward in generosity of heart. They inspire us to rise above our limitations and desire for something better for ourselves.

But they can also be a source of disturbance, unsettling our attitudes and practices. The preaching of Jesus can at times profoundly challenge us. Even if we have heard a passage many times before we can sense it speaking to us and requiring us to examine our lives. The Word of God calls us to change.

The Holy Scriptures are capable of all these things and much more. It is, after all, the Word of God. It is a living Word, the voice of the living God. It is means by which God speaks directly into our lives.
Such is power of the Scriptures. Who has not known of this? The Word of God leads us forward in our living of the Christian life.

The Gospel today presents a simple and yet disturbing parable: it is the story about a rich man enjoying the good things of life while the poor man, Lazarus, was suffering at his gate. The teaching of the parable is not that the rich man did something explicitly wrong. Rather the parable presents the situation of a rich man so preoccupied with enjoying life that he did not see the needs of the poor man at his gate. He was oblivious to him and to his desperate state. The sin here is the sin of omission rather than a sin of commission.
But there is more hidden in this parable.

The distinctive contribution that Christianity has made to human civilisation is the understanding of the nature of God. God is a god of love. “God is love”, St John says.
The Old Testament reveals that God is a god who is “full of mercy and compassion”. Jesus as the revelation of the nature of God witnesses to this in his compassion and mercy towards the poor, the sick and suffering. This parable reflects the fact that Jesus expects his disciples to adopt the same virtues – compassion and mercy.

The parable reveals how God wants us to approach those who are in need. We notice that in the parable the man at the gate has a name. The rich man does not. The name of the poor man is Lazarus.

In other words he is a real person, and not a statistic. He is not just a poor man, but he has a personal history, an individual personality, and a personal destiny.
The distinctive quality about the Christian concern for the poor is that we relate to the poor as unique individuals, loved by God and deserving of our love.

As Christians we are not involved merely in philanthropy or even doing good. We are principally seeking to be instruments of the compassion and mercy of God. We want to reflect the heart of God to those in need. Our response to them is characterised by love. It is our desire that those in need not only receive material help but experience the love of God for them.

This has been the special aspect to the work of the Church among the poor. 

The Catholic Bishops of Australia have prepared the annual Social Justice Statement for this year on the theme of world poverty and have entitled it: “Lazarus at our gate”. I commend the statement to you: take it home and read it. It is clearly written and provides much to think about.

The statement acknowledges the great advances against poverty that have been made in recent decades. It states that since the year 2000 the proportion of people across the world living in extreme poverty has been halved. It reveals that in 1990 47% of humanity lived in extreme poverty, and by 2008 the proportion had fallen to 24%. These are significant advances.

However, we know that there are still vast numbers of people who suffer malnutrition and do not have enough to eat. Increasingly these people are being found in Africa. In 1990 only one sixth of the world’s poor lived in Africa, currently over half do.

We can hear the parable given to us today in the light of these facts. We know that Australia enjoys a relatively high standard of living, even though many struggle economically and there are pockets of serious poverty. We are very conscious of the plight of indigenous Australians. However, we know that we can fall into a consumerist mentality. We know we can spend too much on ourselves. We can forget the poor man at our gate.

This parable and the Social Justice statement can cause us to pause and examine our lives.

We know, too, that the Church is an active agent in seeking to alleviate poverty. We are aware of the work of Caritas across the world. We know of the work of Catholic Mission. We are aware at the local level of the work of St Vincent de Paul Society and that of our Catholic welfare agencies. As Catholics we are engaged in assisting those suffering from poverty. The Church has always done this and it is encouraging to see that the great effort that is made to assist the poor.

Today is a reminder of our need to be generous is continuing to support the various appeals that these organisations make to the Catholic population. We can be reassured that our money is used to best effect and that our agencies preserve very low overheads. We know too that our contributions are able to reach their intended purpose because the Church is able to be effectively on the ground across the world.

We have been generous in the past and I know that the Catholic people will continue to do so. I thank you on behalf of these Catholic organisations. I have been on the Board of Caritas during the chairmanship of Archbishop Adrian. I am currently the bishop responsible for liaison with Catholic Mission in Australia. I have been able to see at first hand the extraordinary things we, as a Church, have been able to achieve.

Lazarus continues to sit at our gate and as long as he is there we cannot ignore him. His presence at our gate causes to examine ourselves and ask whether we are living as simply as we should and whether we are being as generous as we can.

Today let us take a quiet moment of personal reflection: Can I do more as I become conscious that Lazarus sits at our gate?

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Sunday, 29 September 2013