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Diocese of Arundel and Brighton Article

Pastoral Letter, 26th Sunday of the Year

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

As our celebration of the Jubilee of Mercy progresses, I would like to share with you some reflections on one of the great themes of the Jubilee, the Corporal Works of Mercy.

 In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives us the Parable of the rich man and Lazarus.[1]  The rich man has everything, the other nothing.  In the world’s terms, the rich man has great dignity, the other – Lazarus – none whatsoever.  The rich man has it in his power, with very little cost to himself, to raise up from the abject poverty of the gutter, the poor man who sits at his gate.  He does nothing.  He looks only at himself.  The harshest judgement comes to the rich man, while poor Lazarus is raised up. 

The question for us today, and every day, is quite simple.  Do I reach out to the one in need, or do I relax in comfort, safe within the walls and gates I have constructed for myself?  Am I like the rich man’s family, with a conscience that is not even stirred by the One who died for me and rose from the Dead? In the words of Pope Francis, has my conscience grown dull in the face of poverty?[2]

We know from St. Matthew’s Gospel that the yardstick by which we shall be judged is that of our mercy to others.[3] We are called to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, to care for the sick and to visit those in prison and to bury the dead. These works are called "corporal" because they are concerned with the physical well-being of our brothers and sisters. 

The two-fold commandment of Christ – to Love God and love our neighbour[4] – is the key to our understanding of mercy, for it places our motivation for action in the right context. We are enabled to be merciful to our brothers and sisters because we recognise them as people created by a loving God; because we recognise the dignity of the other.  When we are prompted by the loving relationship that we have with God, we cannot but be merciful to others.  Mercy becomes an imperative for us and flows out to others in practical ways. 

We cannot simply wish others well and then leave them to manage for themselves.  St. James reminds us of this in his letter, stating that such behaviour indicates that faith in us is dead.[5] We must act.  The corporal works of mercy are, simply, the outflowing of the love out of which God our Father has created us; the love that has brought us forgiveness and new life in the Passion, Death and Resurrection of Jesus, His Son; the fruits of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

 There will indeed be many ways in which we can celebrate the exercise of these Corporal Works of Mercy across our Diocese - in the work of our SVP groups, in contributions to food banks, in the work of many volunteers who assist in prison chaplaincy in the Diocese, in our response to the Refugee Crisis (to name but a few) - but there will always be more. 

We may be generous in charitable offerings of one kind and another, but sometimes a financial contribution can be a very easy option.  I invite you today to join with me in an examination of conscience as to the way in which you respond to the Lord's call to express the love that he has given to us in the care we offer to our brothers and sisters, mindful that these works of mercy will be used as the measure for our lives.  We might begin by recognising the need to be 'tuned in' to the needs of those around us.  The rich man in today’s Gospel was not. Unless we are ‘tuned in’ how shall we be able to respond in real terms.  We must abandon any hardness of heart and reach out to all.  To fail in this area of our lives is not an option, for Jesus calls us to this and we cannot but respond to the one who died for us.

May this Jubilee Year continue to be a time of great blessing for us all and a time when we respond with renewed energies to the call to service that is at the heart of the Christian life.

With every Blessing,

Yours sincerely in Christ,

+Richard

BIshop of Arundel & Brighton

 

[1] Lk.16:19-31.

[2] POPE FRANCIS, Misericordiae vultus, n. 15.

[3] Mt. 25:31-46.

[4] Mt. 22:36-40; Mk. 12: 30-31; Lk. 10:27.

[5] Jm. 2:15-17.