Lk 16.19-31                    Amos 6.1-7                1Tim 6.11-16

Immediately after his election as Pope, Jorge Bergoglio was reminded by one of his fellow South American cardinals, to remember the poor, which apparently prompted his choice of the name Francis, focussing on 13th century Francis of Assisi, who walked away from his material wealth and comfort to a new life of poverty and prayer, never to turn back. In the decade since becoming Pope, Francis has consistently emphasized the Gospel priority of what’s often called the “preferential option for the poor”.

Within the Catholic Church, he has been criticized for his broad-mindedness and lack of dogmatic approach, by those resistant to change and wanting to maintain the status quo, with the defence that this is orthodoxy and truth, the Church not needing to engage with the secular world, or even with other religions, within and without Christianity.

Not to be deterred, just last week, Francis attended a multi-faith gathering of 80 faith leaders, from 50 countries, titled “Congress of Leaders of World and Traditional Religions”,  in Kazakhstan (1% of 19 million are Catholics!), where he encouraged peace and mutual understanding between diverse groups of  believers, be they Christian or not, calling for harmony and peace, and denouncing the “widespread injustice” threatening what he identified as the “integral development” of the world.  In simple terms, he spoke of the need for “understanding, patience and dialogue with all”, repeating “with all”!

The negativists and reactionaries accuse him of relativism, critical of his open and inclusive approach,  even speaking of  “a supermarket of religions” where “everyone is there and that you can choose what you want”!!  Nevertheless, there’s no stopping Francis at 85, as he sums up: “We also need others, all others, our Christian sisters and brothers of other confessions, those who hold other religious beliefs than our own, all men and women of good will… May we realize, in a spirit of humility, that only together, in dialogue and mutual acceptance, can we truly achieve something good for the benefit of all.”

And now, this weekend, Francis is meeting in Assisi with around 1,000 young economic scholars and entrepreneurs for a summit titled “The Economy of Francesco”,  with the intention of providing proposals for reforming the global economic system, and getting the world to think differently about the economy, about which we hear so much.  They are future leaders, being challenged to think about how to make a better world in the longer term.

Commentator Ross Gittins, an economist with a strong social conscience, from a Salvation Army background, often writes of the need to consider the human factor and mutual well-being, rather than defining the world in purely financial and statistical figures. Some countries now talk about including wellness factors, and not just GDP (gross domestic product)  in measuring the wealth of a society.

The Kingdom of Bhutan (between India and China in the Eastern Himalayas, also 1% Catholic), the only carbon negative country in the world,  was the first nation to test a Gross National Happiness Index in 2008, measuring factors including “psychological health, living standards, community vitality as well as environmental and cultural resilience” to help inform government policies for the overall good of the whole population.

In fact, did you know, 3 years ago, New Zealand introduced a “Happiness Index”, described as a “marker that focusses on the wellbeing of the citizens rather than an economic bottom line”? It was to help government with budgets aimed at increasing the welfare of citizens instead of basing budgets solely on GDP, which is more a measure of health of economy rather than considering the overall human factor in society. It could be summed up as putting communities before economics.  And, admittedly,  this is hard to accurately measure, but then don’t they say that economic predictions can be a bit like astrology, more wishful thinking than reality.

This all sounds like good sense to me, and seems to fit the theme of today’s Gospel, where Jesus is challenging the wealthy, in particular the Pharisees, who were said to love their wealth with a passion, seeing it as God’s reward for their virtuosity, which Jesus sees straight through, to their ongoing chagrin, highlighting their hypocrisy.

Today’s Gospel is more straightforward than last week, as we see the rich man, Dives, failing to realize, until it is too late, that to “eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die”,  is not an appropriate philosophy or theology of life, for a genuine disciple of Jesus, whose teaching runs directly opposite to the so-called “Prosperity Gospel”, where comfort and wealth are seen as God’s reward, but with no regard for others, particularly the poor and afflicted.

There is a Christian moral responsibility for all to share resources, time and energy, with others in need.   It’s not just that Lazarus  (meaning “God is my help”)  gets his reward in the end, but that he should have been given more respect, attention and care in the first place, given his handicaps in life.  Nor is it sufficient for an attitude of rewards coming in the end.  The necessity is here and now, to improve the situation of those in need of care in all aspects, physical, material and spiritual.

Once again, too, further back, we have the minor, but first, prophet Amos, (ca750BC), trying to shake up the complacent wealthy from their ignorance or denial of their responsibilities to share their wealth.  So this is an age old theme, which continues in our world today.

I conclude with a quote from Claude Mostowik MSC: “Some years ago, Pope Francis said that ‘comfortable living’ could cause a ‘gentrification of the heart’ after having condemned the ‘globalization of indifference’ towards asylum seekers”, and others on the fringes of  societies throughout the world.

How can we respond more effectively?  For a start, we have our appeal for support for our Refugee and Asylum Seekers group in the parish this weekend.  So, let’s be generous in our response here, as we take the Gospel to heart and apply it.

john hannon                                                                                25th  September  2022

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