Today we have some tough readings for those of us who like savory food. Amos speaks about the ones who loved to eat lamb and veal – meats that are delicious because they are full of fat. It was an ancient version of the Atkins Diet. In the Gospel Jesus also mentions food – a man who dined sumptuously every day - and ended up in hell.
We see here a sin which people don’t talk about much today – gluttony. It is an excessive preoccupation with food. The temptation is perhaps stronger for us today because we are surrounded with more delicious food than was the case in the ancient world.* Gluttony does not mean the simple enjoyment of food. To eat a delicious and healthy meal – with gratitude – is very good. To prepare a tasty meal for the family is an act of affection and love. However, it can become gluttony when the food itself becomes the focus. This is not only a problem for those who are struggling with their weight. Gluttony can also affect people who are relatively slim. Sometimes I can be listening to someone who is going through a very terrible situation. I am trying to be attentive and compassionate, but all the time I am thinking about what I have in the refrigerator! Something is wrong when food is more important than an other human being. Gluttony is when a person instead of eating to live, lives to eat. It can happen to any of us. St. Paul speaks about those whose only god is their stomach. It is called the sin of gluttony.
So it was for the Israelites. The only thing that mattered to them was their lifestyle. You’ve heard about the “lifestyles of the rich and famous.” Amos describes it in today’s reading. People who are constantly seeking exquisite food generally also want other exquisite things, for example clothes and furniture. Amos tells about how the rich Israelites, after feasting on lamb and veal, reclined on beds of ivory. Archeologists have excavated ivory chairs and beds from the eighth century. That was right before the Assyrians invaded Northern Israel. The rich were decadent and the poor were resentful. They had no cohesion and were an easy target for the invaders.
The rich man in the Gospel not only dined sumptuously, but he wore the finest clothes. Jesus says he dressed in purple. Purple is a common color today, but in the ancient world only the wealthiest could afford it. The only source for purple dye was certain Mediterranean mollusks. They had to bring the dye from great distances. It would be like someone here in White Center wearing a suit or dress from Milan.
The problem – I want to emphasize – does not lie in having beautiful things. The problem is not recognizing where those things come from – and therefore what their purpose is. A person can start thinking that they are mine They belong to me – and I can use them any way I chose.
It was for that reason that the rich man wound up in hell. Hell is the separation from God and ones neighbor. Hell is not so much a place of punishment, as if God were looking for a reason to make us suffer. No, hell is a personal choice – a self-exclusion from God and ones neighbor.
I think we all want to avoid going to hell. Jesus tells how in the parable. By means of Abraham he gives us a simple formula to avoid eternal suffering: listen to Moses and the prophets. Moses gave the Ten Commandments, the moral law which is written in the human heart. The prophets call us to repentance: return to God and ones brother, especially the one who is hungry.
Hunger is a terrible thing. The majority of us have not experienced true hunger, that is, several days with nothing to eat. The person who is hungry will eat anything. In the German concentration camp a man gave a bag of diamonds for three rotten potatoes. I remember in Peru during the drought, seeing a family – a man, his wife and two children – with plastic bags picking up grains of rice from the street. They were hungry.
In our society we do not see so much hunger for food, but another type of hunger. The Holy Father has identified this hunger: misery, despair and an empty heart. You can see this hunger in a person who falls into alcoholism or pornography. You see it also in the girl or woman who procures an abortion. We hear about “pro-choice” but how many truly choose an abortion because they want it? Based on many conversations, I have concluded that they often feel trapped or pressured – many times because the child’s father does not support them.
Today Lazarus is at our doorstep. So many persons have a hunger which only God can satisfy. You and I have resources to help them. Probably nobody here is so rich as the man in the parable – but neither is anyone so poor as Lazarus. God will judge us according to how we use our resources: time, talent, treasure. Saint Paul tells us now is the moment to will “lay hold to eternal life” to which we have been called. (I Tim 6:12) We do that by dedicating our resources to God and our neighbor.
*Spices which we take for granted - pepper, nutmeg, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, etc. - were brought from the orient and were quite expensive. Even salt cost a significant sum. Most people ate meat only on special occasions, for example, slaughtering the fatted calf to celebrate a homecoming. And they lacked food items that most of us could not imagine living without: coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, squash, corn and potatoes. Given the choice between a Roman banquet and the menu of say, Denny's, few people would prefer the former.
From Archives (26th Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Bulletin (Pictures from Parish Council Tour)
Window on the Womb (New York Times)
Homily by Fr. Derek Lappe:
The separation of Church and State does not mean that the teachings of Jesus Christ, and the morality embraced by Christians for the last two thousand years have no application in political life.
Ethical issue for Catholic Hospitals: "early induction for fetuses with anomalies"
When "Child Abuse" Becomes a Witch Hunt
Newsweek religion editor Kenneth Woodward's dissection of the root of so much of our current Catholics n' politics problems - Mario Cuomo's position on abortion
Feminists Rediscover Motherhood
The Reporter's Contemptible Hit Piece (by Mark Shea)
Domenico Bettinelli on Closing of Parishes in Boston Archdiocese (as reported by Boston Globe)
Margaret Sanger On Jews and Italians
St. Mary of the Valley Album
New Archbishop of Seattle: “To be Catholic Means to be Pro-Life”
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish.
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated September 2013)
Geography of Faith Resources