Thursday of the Second Week of Lent – Lk 16:19-31
Today’s Gospel presents us with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. It calls our attention that in absolutely all of His other parables, Jesus never gives a character a proper name: they are simply “a man,” “a woman,” and the like. Lazarus, a name derived from the Hebrew Eleazar, meaning, God is my help, is the only one who merits this special distinction. There’s something ironic in this, since Jesus gives this poor man special attention, whereas the rich man, and, indeed, everyone, refused to pay him any mind at all. Yet, had they looked, they would have seen one of God’s beloved children, and indeed, even Christ Himself.
One of Saint Teresa of Calcutta’s favorite phrases was to say that she and her sisters served Christ in “His most distressing disguise.” In her case, it was in the poor, lepers, and the abandoned, people who physically resembled Lazarus. Today’s Gospel reminds us that we too must serve Christ in whatever “His most distressing disguise” might be for us.
This might be the person of our superiors, who might be difficult or lack the qualities we think they should have. However, as Saint Ignatius wrote: “The superior is to be obeyed not because he is prudent, or good, or qualified by any other gift of God, but because he holds the place and the authority of God, as Eternal Truth has said: He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me [Luke 10:16]. Nor on the contrary, should he lack prudence, is he to be the less obeyed in that in which he is superior, since he represents Him who is infallible wisdom.” Obedience requires that we see Christ in disguise.
This might also mean Christ hidden in our community members. In her autobiography, Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus candidly recalls who she dealt with such a one in her own convent, writing: “There is in Community a Sister who has the faculty of displeasing me in everything, in her ways, her words, her character, everything seems very disagreeable to me. . . . I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works; then I set myself to doing for this Sister what I would do for the person I loved the most. Each time I met her I prayed to God for her, offering Him all her virtues and merits… I wasn’t content simply with praying very much for this Sister who gave me so many struggles, but I took care to render her all the services possible, and when I was tempted to answer her back in a disagreeable manner, I was content with giving her my most friendly smile. . . . One day at recreation she asked in almost these words: ‘Would you tell me, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, what attracts you so much towards me; every time you look at me, I see you smile?’ Ah! What attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul.’”
The “distressing disguise” might even be a person who could justly be called an “enemy.” But, here, too, we must see Christ Himself. The life of Saint Louis Orione offers great examples of this. “When one of his religious abandoned the Congregation, he covered Orione with insults and abuse. Don Orione gave him some money, embraced him with tenderness, kissed him with affection on the forehead, wished him all good things, and told those present to pray for him as for a benefactor.” On another occasion, trouble brewed for Orione in the city of Tortona: the bishop was complaining, there was slander, gossip, accusations, hostility, and trials. Yet, in the midst of it all, Orione wrote to a friend saying: “My enemies can even put my eyes out; just let them leave me my heart [with which] to love them.” Once, when Orione was betrayed and insulted by one of his religious, a fellow priest told him to respond in kind, and asked what would be done. Don Orione answered: “Nothing. . . . For these people: a) one prays to God; b) one forgives; c) one loves.”
As we continue our Lenten journey, we can consider the words of the Servant of God Dorothy Day, and use them to examine our love for our neighbor. She wrote, “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.” “I really only love God as much as I love the person I love the least.”
Let us ask, through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Charity, for the grace to love Christ even and especially when He is hidden under His most distressing disguises.
Homily March 30th, 2023
Thursday of the Fifth Week of Lent – Jn 8:51-59