26 Sep 2010
“‘There was a rich man who dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus …’” (Lk 16:19-20) In the name …
The prayers and the readings of this morning’s Mass speak of the stewardship that God expects of us, that we use the gifts we have received from God for the greater good rather than only our own. This all fits in neatly with the fact that today is also Spojnia Sunday in our church. Spojnia is a Polish word that translates into English as union or bond. It was chosen by Bp. Hodur in 1908 when he organized our fraternal organization to represent the bond formed when each of us tries to help each other. The 102 year old story of how our church fraternal got its start is in one sense outdated, but in another it is as contemporary as the economics of our time. Just about all of the members of our first parishes were poor, sometimes desperately so, and just about all of them were immigrants from Poland.
Over here in the America of more than a century ago, the Polish people were fighting for recognition and respect. The nation of Poland had been wiped off the map in Europe. It was divided among the Russians, Prussians and Germans. Here the non-English speaking, Eastern European Polish immigrants faced a great deal of discrimination based on their language, looks and customs. All of this compelled them to form strong bonds that held them together as a community. Into this mixture we also have to add our church, originally a Polish church. There was a large Polish fraternal known as the Polish National Alliance that strongly supported our first efforts. As a matter of fact, delegates from this organization were represented at our First General Synod in 1904 even though they were not actual parishioners of the church. That’s how close the bond was between the two. And one of the goals for which both of these groups were fighting was to have a Polish bishop in America.
Well, in 1907 Bp. Hodur was Consecrated a bishop, as a matter of fact three days from now is the anniversary of his Consecration. Almost as soon as that happened, the Roman Catholic Church consecrated a Polish bishop of their own. When that happened, all of a sudden, the Polish National Alliance fraternal turned away from our young church. All of a sudden, when our parishioners applied for loans or insurance, they were denied. Our parishioners were facing real financial hardships. And this is where a very old and outdated sounding story of Polish immigrants becomes extremely relevant once again. We were a small and poor group, and we were manipulated by a larger and more powerful group, to get what they wanted. We were a pawn in their game, a piece easily discarded.
Today’s Lesson is from the Old Testament book of the Prophet Amos who was writing some 750 years before the birth of Christ. Last week and this, the prophet is complaining about the wealthy among the people of Israel, not so much because of their wealth, but because of the abuse of their wealth. They were cheating and taking advantage of those who were less well off than they were, and they were living lives of excessive luxury while their neighbours weren’t even sure of their next meal. Jump centuries ahead to the time of Jesus and the situation is unchanged, and this is why Jesus will offer the parable we read today of the rich man and Lazarus. Again, it is not so much the wealth itself, as the complete disregard for the one who has nothing. In a remarkable change of the norm, Jesus remembers the name of the poor man and forgets the name of the wealthy. The poor and the forgotten are remembered by Jesus. The ones who are the notable of the world are anonymous to Jesus if they do not act to care for the less fortunate.
The story of Spojnia in 1908 is not all that much different than the story told by Jesus of 2,000 years ago or for that matter the prophecy of Amos 2700 years ago. Too many of wealth, means and power do not care for those who have none of these, and even worse they too often take advantage of those who are already left unfortunate by the world. Sadly, on any week of the year that this topic is discussed a current example of greed could be produced. I was amazed by this past week’s news from the city of Bell, California. They arrested the entire city government because all of the elected officials and many of the appointed ones were apparently looting the treasury of this working-class city. Many of the arrested were Hispanic and they were looting other Hispanic families, many of whom were living below the poverty line. Sometimes greed is just amazing in how callous it can be.
Even though greed is everywhere, even though the movie Wall Street II came out this weekend and that iconic figure of Gordon Gekko can now say to knowing nods from everybody in the theater, “Someone reminded me I once said ‘Greed is good.’ Now it seems it’s legal. Because everybody’s drinking the same Kool Aid. Now I’ve been considered a pretty smart guy. And maybe I was in prison too long. But sometimes it’s the only place to stay sane and look out through those bars and say, “Is everybody out there nuts.” Now we also have to separate ourselves from the insanity of greed that’s ruining our economy, not to mention so many lives, but we can separate ourselves from that insanity by choosing to listen to the message of the prophets and especially of Jesus. We can hear in our faith the lesson that we need to be thankful for what we have and we also need to be mindful of what others may need. In other words, instead of everyone trying to grab the most they can for themselves no matter how that’s done and no matter who it hurts, we instead need to come together to help each other, just like we did 102 years ago. We can and should be industrious and proud of our rewards for honest labour, but we cannot forget those who are less fortunate, and we have to recognize the gravity of the sin when the poor are taken advantage of. Let us pray that our response to all the destructive greed we have witnessed may be the bond we can build that holds people together for mutual benefit out of mutual concern. For this we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen. (+)
Fr. Randolph Calvo