Msgr Marucci's Weekly Message

FROM THE PASTOR’S DESK -   1st Sunday of Lent   February 17-18, 2018


On one autumn day, many years ago, when I was ordained only a few years, I decided to go to the City of Philadelphia on my day off.  The day started off as one of those beautiful 60 degree days in winter, but soon thereafter, the temperature dropped to low 40’s, the wind kicked up, and the air became brisk.  I started the day off with only a sweatshirt on over a flannel shirt and a pair of jeans and sneakers (again….my day off). Thus, as I passed an inexpensive thrift shop I stopped in and purchased an inexpensive lined windbreaker for only $5. 

Delighted with my purchase, I continued rolling down the street until I arrived at the next corner, where a homeless man said,” Sir, I am hungry and cold, would you give me a few dollars to get something to eat?”  I did not want to give the man cash, but gave him my $5 windbreaker, walked into the McDonald’s directly behind him and bought him a burger, fries, and Coke. My intent was to go back to the Thrift shop and buy a second $5 windbreaker.  After exiting the store, I gave the man the bag of food, and before I could leave, a television camera, microphone and reporter had swarmed upon me for an interview.  Apparently, one of the local News stations was doing a story on how people act when they think no one is watching.  They were motivated to interview me because several people had simply walked by and/or refused to make eye contact.  The reporter wanted to interview me because he was bothered because so many walked by, yet intimately moved when a young paraplegic gentleman  in a wheelchair stopped, took off his coat, and went out of the way to buy the man something to eat.

Here came the dilemma….I did not want to be interviewed, because it was my day off and I was not wearing clerics.  The last thing on the face of the earth that I wanted was to be interviewed on TV, because I was not wearing clerics (My day off), and Bishop Guilfoyle, not the most friendliest of Bishops, was a stickler that priests should always wear their clerics. As the kids would say today….OMG (Oh my Gosh). Needless to say, the interview went on, and the reporter asked why I stopped, reminding me that very few others did not.  I remember quoting a Scripture Passage where Jesus said, “The poor you have with you always!” then he said immediately following…”And whenever you wish…you can do good for them.” It was certainly no big sacrifice to help someone in need.

As we have now begun the Lenten season, I ask you to utilize this time to make a personal sacrifice for the Lord. Do you remember the parable that Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke about the rich man (Dives) and the poor man Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31).  This is one of my favorite gospel stories because it provides a clear and distinct teaching about Jesus’ expectations. One of the saddest aspects of this parable and one of the most sobering is the fact that the rich man raised his eyes and saw Lazarus (v.23) only when it was too late for him to redeem himself.

During his ministry, Jesus had announced, "the poor you will always have with you, and whenever you wish you can do good to them" (Mark 14:7). Jesus had also indicated that the care of the poor and needy was the criterion of judgment for entering into the reign of God: "whatever you did for one of these least brothers (and sisters) of mine, you did for me" (Matthew 25:40). Nevertheless, many of Jesus’ contemporaries and many of his followers through the centuries have made the same mistake as the rich man in this parable. By neglecting the poor, by failing even to see the poor in their midst, they (we) have lost an opportunity for perpetual union with God in Christ.

Notice that this parable (unlike its sister parable, Luke 16:1-8, which was directed at Jesus’ Disciples) is told in response to the criticism of the Pharisees, who, as Luke told us, "loved money, heard all these things, and sneered at him (Jesus)"(v.14). Because of their fastidiousness in keeping the law, the Pharisees regarded themselves as justified before God and humankind (v. 16). When Jesus unfolded his narrative about Lazarus and the rich man, they probably envisioned themselves comfortably ensconced with Abraham in paradise. But, as Jesus’ parable indicated, attentiveness to the minutiae of the law will not suffice; rather, attentiveness to the cries of the poor and the Lazarus’s at the gate will secure a place with Abraham in eternity. However, those who neglect their responsibilities to the poor in this life will find their fortunes reversed in the next.

In this parable, we find that one of the featured characters is named, and that is not by coincidence.  The name Lazarus literally means "he whom God helps or loves." (People mistakenly presume that this man was the same Lazarus who was the brother of Martha and Mary, and good friend of Jesus, but this is a different man. (John 11).

Jesus’ point in this parable is direct, clear, and blunt. He challenged His listeners to "share your abundance with someone in need.” That person may be on your doorstep, or someone you may never meet. Over and over again we are warned that wealth carries obligations and poses dangers. Remember Christ's words to the rich young man: "Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor." But there is an even more fundamental message in this gospel? The message is calling us to awareness! It is so easy to allow ourselves to become insulated from the very real needs of others. Burdened with our own day to day responsibilities, or the difficulties of a tough economy, the desperate needs of others often do not figure into our thoughts. But Jesus makes it clear…we have to make some efforts to be aware of the sufferings of others.

The sin of Dives, (the name given to the rich man in the parable) was not that he did unkind things to Lazarus. The sin was that he just never noticed. Are you aware of the voices calling out to you from others in need? You too, have voices calling out to you, from Scripture certainly, but also from the inner city of Camden, from places where people suffer hunger, thirst, and persecution, from seminarians in need, from those supported by Catholic charities, from the elderly in our nursing homes, from persons with disabilities, and from some of the most destitute people in our diocese. And all of these people call out to us through the House of Charity - Bishops Annual Appeal. Can we afford to close our ears to the many Lazarus’s who cry out to us for help?

Once again dear brothers and sisters I cry out to you on behalf of those who have no voice. I urge you to please make your sacrificial pledge to the House of Charity - Bishops Annual Appeal today. As I have told you in the past, I was the former Executive Director of this campaign before I came to you as your Pastor.  As the Director, I assure you that every penny collected for the House of Charity is distributed only to the case components specified in the brochure materials. I know this with certitude because I was the one responsible for the distribution in the past. These funds are collected as restricted funds, and by law, are only permitted to be used as described. In no way are these funds ever permitted to be used for legal settlements or for any other reason than described in the case brochure. 

Last year, you made me so very proud as your Pastor, because I know that your gifts came from your hearts. I realize that we are asking you to be generous during a difficult economical period, but I trust that God always blesses the generous heart. Last year I did not ask you to consider an increase to the House of Charity, because of your generosity to our Capital Campaign.  But the needs of the poor rise each day. 

Remember, God always blesses the cheerful giver. Also, please know that 75% of the gifts that we receive in excess of our goal are returned to the parish to support our own charitable initiatives. I have never seen a parish in my life that has so many charitable and social outreach services than St. Andrew the Apostle. And we truly need your help.  Last year, our goal was $176,000 and you raised nearly  $250,000. This year our goal is $168,300, and we are trying to exceed the $250,000 goal raised last year.  So please….make a special gift to the House of Charity today. 

When I was a young boy, and the church required us to collect door to door for the House of Charity, my mother always said. “Just remember…it is always better to be on the giving end of the House of Charity, than to have to be on the receiving end.”  Whenever we make a gift from the heart, and it makes another person’s life better, it brings great joy to the giver and the receiver. May God bless you for all you do, and I thank you in advance for your support of the House of Charity – Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

With a loving and grateful heart,

Msgr. Marucci