The first reading today is from Amos, chapter 6. The crux of it seems to lie in the first two lines: “Thus says the Lord the God of hosts: Woe to the complacent in Zion!” Lest anyone try to rationalize their behavior Amos spells it out: lying in fancy beds, stretched on couches, eating without working, wine, oils, wanton revelry…. All of this has led to their not being “made ill by the collapse of Joseph.” It is not exactly that seeking comfort or security is the central problem, but that these behaviors have resulted in a complacency that has a carelessness to it, an obliviousness, in the face of dire societal problems. And so woe to them who exist in this bubble.
And so we begin our readings this way— with pity those who are at ease in the world! Who eat and drink without thought or care. Woe to those who do not give attention to people outside their door. Alas for them. For those who do not see how being at ease with the state of the world can be a thing of woe, or how paying attention only to one’s comforts can lead to downfall—Luke would like to introduce you to Lazarus. “There was a rich man dressed in purple garments and fine linen who dined sumptuously each day. And lying at his door was a poor man named Lazarus, covered in sores, who would gladly have eaten his fill of the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” (Luke 16:19)
On closer inspection of this story I realize that it has no description of any interactions between Lazarus and the rich man. And so I think, perhaps there were none! Perhaps the rich man never even really noticed Lazarus. His downfall, perhaps, was his complacency. And so yes, woe to that rich man! His wealth shielded him from the realities outside his door and the consequences were dire.
When Dorothy Day of the Catholic Worker wrote about the need for proximity with people who were poor, it was in both mind and body. In the postscript to her autobiography, The Long Loneliness, Dorothy wrote, “We cannot love God unless we love each other, and to love we must know each other. We know Him in the breaking of bread, and we know each other in the breaking of bread, and we are not alone anymore. Heaven is a banquet and life is a banquet, too, even with a crust, where there is companionship."
The work that comes out of proximity is nothing less than the Works of Mercy. These guides from Matthew 25 are at the heart of the Catholic Worker movement. Dorothy often remarked that if you truly saw the person in front of you as Christ in the world, one could not merely say, “Go, be thou filled.” The Gospels call us to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, house the homeless, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, care for the sick, and bury the dead. This Personalist approach means that you feel a responsibility to the person in front of you–a responsibility that ought not to be deflected to the State or the Church.
On May 1st, 1933 when Dorothy Day and Peter Maurin handed out the first issue of The Catholic Worker newspaper it in many ways echoed Amos– let us not be complacent as society collapses around us! The calling to its readers was to envision and enflesh a “new society in the shell of the old.” It was a revolution to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
Rarely are there difficult readings in our lectionary that do not include a reminder of the blessings promised. If you read the entire psalm 146 we find a breathtaking description of the world we seek: the just are rewarded, the wicked are thwarted, the captives are free, the hungry are fed and all are sustained. In the psalm this new world is already happening, it is written in the present tense, God is already at work. Dorothy saw the possibility of this new society in the shell of the old everywhere—in the face of those at the door, in the small kindnesses of strangers, in donations that arrived at precisely the moment they were needed.
I have always loved what Dorothy once wrote about her co-founder Peter Maurin, that he “made you feel a sense of mission as soon as you met him. He did not begin by tearing down, or by painting so intense a picture of misery and injustice that you burned to change the world. Instead, he aroused in you a sense of your own capacities for work, for accomplishment. He made you feel that you and all people had great and generous hearts with which to love God.” Amos is a serious warning against our complacency, the story of Lazarus illustrates some dire consequences. But the psalm, the psalm is the promise. It, too, arouses in us a sense of our own capacity to do the work of justice. It upholds the vision of a more just world, one that is happening right now, one that we must not allow our complacency to keep us from entering into.
Amanda W. Daloisio
Amanda W. Daloisio
Amanda W. Daloisio has been a part of the New York Catholic Worker community since 2002. She currently serves as co-managing editor of The Catholic Worker newspaper, work that allows her to debate both politics and grammar, which she truly loves. She is also the co-editor of Ambassadors of God: Selected Obituaries from The Catholic Worker.
Amanda has always appreciated her Catholic education–from the Franciscans in high school to the Jesuits at Loyola University in Baltimore. From there she went on to receive a Masters in Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School. It was during graduate school that she and her husband Matthew moved into Haley House, the Catholic Worker in Boston. After two years they moved into Maryhouse, part of the New York Catholic Worker. She came to all those places out of need–a need for work, for meaning, for knowledge, for experience. She has stayed at the Catholic Worker in NYC because it is where she has access to all that she needs, all the time, with people she admires.
No longer living in the house, Amanda lives in the neighborhood with Matthew and their two kids...three people who also give her all she needs, and whom she admires.
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