“To ignore the poor is to despise God”
“To ignore God is to despise God” because if I do not open my heart to the poor, that door remains closed to God too and this is terrible”. Pope Francis said this at the General Audience in St. Peter’s Square on May 18th, which was centered around the parable of the rich man and the poor man Lazarus.
“Lazarus represents the silent cry of the poor of all times and the contradictions of a world where vast wealth and resources are in the hands of few”. Francis greeted orphan children and Ukrainian refugees and prayed for “lasting peace” in the country bordering with Russia, where armed conflict continues.
The life of the rich man and poor man Lazarus “seem to run on parallel tracks; their living conditions are opposite and totally non-communicating,” the Pope said. “The rich man’s front door is always closed to the poor man who hopes to eat some leftovers from the rich man’s table. Every day the rich man – who wears luxurious clothes while Lazarus is covered with sores – fares sumptuously while Lazarus is starving. Only dogs look after him and come to lick his sores”. “Lazarus represents the silent cry of the poor of all times and the contradictions of a world where vast wealth and resources are in the hands of few,” Francis underlined. “Jesus says that one day the rich man died, poor and rich share the same destiny, without exception and so he turned to Abraham and pleaded with him, referring to him as “father”. He claimed to be his son and to belong to the people of God, Francis pointed out that in life he showed no consideration for God but made himself the centre of everything, “locked in his own world of luxury and waste”. “By excluding Lazarus, he explained, the rich man did not take the Lord or his law into account.”
“To ignore the poor is to despise God!” he said. This we need to get into our heads. “To ignore the poor is to despise God!” he repeated.
Francis emphasized one aspect of the parable in particular: “The rich man does not have a name, while the poor person’s name is repeated five times and “Lazarus” means “God helps”. Lying in front of the door, Lazarus is a living signal to the rich man to remember God but the rich man fails to read this signal. He is therefore doomed, not because of his riches, but because he was incapable of feeling compassion for Lazarus and failed to rescue him.” The second part of the parable describes what happens to Lazarus and the rich man after death. “The situation is reversed: Lazarus is carried to heaven by the angels while the rich man falls into the torments of suffering. Now, he said, the rich man recognizes Lazarus and asks for help, while in life he pretended not to see him. It is as though he sees Lazarus for the first time but his words betray him: ‘Father Abraham,’ he said, ‘have mercy on me! And send Lazarus – he knew him, eh – to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool off my tongue, because I am suffering in this fire’. How often do people pretend not to see the poor, to them, the poor do not exist!” Francis underlined. “Before, he wouldn’t even give him his leftovers and now he wants him to bring him something to drink! He still thinks he has certain entitlements because of his previous social condition.”
“As long as Lazarus was lying in front of his house, there was the chance of salvation for the rich man, but now that they are both dead, the situation has become irreparable” the Pope said. “there is no direct reference to God but the parable sends out a clear warning sign: the mercy God shows towards us is linked to the mercy we show our neighbour; when it is missing, this too cannot find a space in our closed heart, it cannot enter. If I do not open wide the door of my heart to the poor, then it remains closed to God too, and this is terrible!” Francis said, concluding: “No messenger and no message can replace the poor we meet along the way, because it is along this way that Jesus meets us: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me’. The mystery of our salvation, in which Christ unites poverty and mercy, is hidden in this reversal of fates which the parable describes.”
At the end of the Audience, which took place on John Paul II’s birthday (18 May 1920),the Pope sent out a special greeting to Polish faithful. At the end of July he will be visiting Poland for World Youth Day 2016: “I unite spiritually with the President of the Republic of Poland, with the combatants and participants of the holy mass celebrated at the Polish cemetery of Montecassino in remembrance of the fallen and also those who have gathered at the Torum for the consecration of the shrine of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the star of the new evangelisation and of, John Paul II” he said. May these important events “be an invitation to you to pray for peace, for the Church in Poland and the prosperity of your country”. Francis then sent out a special greeting to Ukrainian children, who are orphans and refugees because of the armed conflict that continues in the east of the country. By the intercession of the Most Holy Mary, I renew my prayers for a lasting peace that may lift a sorely tried population and offer a peaceful future to new generations.” A speaker translated the Pope’s message into Russian.