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Waking up to God with Francis and Vincent – II

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In this second reflection on “Waking up to God with Francis and Vincent,” we are reminded that on Ash Wednesday we were basically told two things

1. “Repent” (change your way of thinking)
2. “believe the gospel” (live according to this new way of thinking.)
 
Pope Francis uses the story of Lazarus to explain this invitation more fully. He uses just 3 paragraphs to wake us up to the God who is already present in ways we do not expect.

The parable begins by presenting its two main characters. The poor man is described in greater detail: he is wretched and lacks the strength even to stand. Lying before the door of the rich man, he fed on the crumbs falling from his table. His body is full of sores and dogs come to lick his wounds (cf. vv. 20-21). The picture is one of great misery; it portrays a man disgraced and pitiful.

The scene is even more dramatic if we consider that the poor man is called Lazarus: a name full of promise, which literally means God helps. This character is not anonymous. His features are clearly delineated and he appears as an individual with his own story. While practically invisible to the rich man, we see and know him as someone familiar. He becomes a face, and as such, a gift, a priceless treasure, a human being whom God loves and cares for, despite his concrete condition as an outcast (cf. Homily, 8 January 2016).

Lazarus teaches us that other persons are a gift. A right relationship with people consists in gratefully recognizing their value. Even the poor person at the door of the rich is not a nuisance, but a summons to conversion and to change. The parable first invites us to open the doors of our heart to others because each person is a gift, whether it be our neighbour or an anonymous pauper. Lent is a favourable season for opening the doors to all those in need and recognizing in them the face of Christ. Each of us meets people like this every day. Each life that we encounter is a gift deserving acceptance, respect and love. The word of God helps us to open our eyes to welcome and love life, especially when it is weak and vulnerable. But in order to do this, we have to take seriously what the Gospel tells us about the rich man.

At an unconscious level, we often operate out of a model of God as a powerful monarch. So when we see the lowly and the marginalized we do not see God calling to us.
 
Fr. Tom McKenna reminds us that Vincent tells a similar story using the image of dented coin.
The signature response of Vincent de Paul to the human dignity question – “Why help this disheveled old man?” is “Because you’ve seen through to the other side of the coin.”
Vincent’s metaphor is of a beat-up, dented, scratched, scarred, and very common coin, which turns out to have another side. It is applied to the beat-up, dented, dime-a-dozen, mostly invisible ones– the poor people. “Why treat that common nobody on the ground as if he is somebody?”
Here is Vincent’s answer:
I shouldn’t judge poor peasants, men or women, by their surface appearance, nor by their apparent mental capacities. And this is hard to do, since very frequently they scarcely seem to have the semblance or the intelligence of reasonable beings, so gross and so offensive are they. But, turn the coin, and you will see by the light of faith that the Son of God, Whose will it was to be poor, is represented to us by just these people. (XI Conference #19, p.32)
Vincent calls us to change our way of thinking about the “not so nice” people we encounter.
In back of this conviction are two bedrock beliefs: first, God is the most real and the most precious reality there is, and second, this precious God lives in His people, at the tip of their hearts, in their in-most personal chambers, shot through the core of their very selves. This at base is what gives us reason to metaphorically “take our shoes off” when we come into their presence.
Anyone wanting the key to Vincent de Paul’s “great soul” could not get much closer than meditating on these two convictions – two beliefs which, for Vincent, were wrapped one inside the other. They are his answer to, “Why stop to help a crumpled old man who can’t help you back?”

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