This excerpt is from Pope John Paul II’s homily at Yankee Stadium during his Apostolic Journey to the United States on October 2, 1979. Click here for full text.
When we Christians make Jesus Christ the center of our feelings and thoughts, we do not turn away from people and their needs. On the contrary, we are caught up in the eternal movement of God’s love that comes to meet us; we are caught up in the movement of the Son, who came among us, who became one of us; we are caught up in the movement of the Holy Spirit, who visits the poor, calms fevered hearts, binds up wounded hearts, warms cold hearts, and gives us the fullness of his gifts.
The reason why man is the primary and fundamental way for the Church is that the Church walks in the footsteps of Jesus: it is Jesus who has shown her this road. This road passes in an unchangeable way through the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption; it leads from Christ to man. The Church looks at the world through the very eyes of Christ; Jesus is the principle of her solicitude for man.
On various occasions, I have referred to the Gospel parable of the rich man and Lazarus. “Once there was a rich man who dressed in purple and linen and feasted splendidly every day. At his gate lay a beggar named Lazarus who was covered with sores. Lazarus longed to eat the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table” (Lk 16:19 ff.). Both the rich man and the beggar died and judgment was rendered on their conduct. And the Scripture tells us that Lazarus found consolation, but that the rich man found torment.
Was the rich man condemned because he had riches, because he abounded in earthly possessions, because he “dressed in purple and linen and feasted splendidly every day?” No, I would say that it was not for this reason. The rich man was condemned because he did not pay attention to the other man. Because he failed to take notice of Lazarus, the person who sat at his door and who longed to eat the scraps from his table.
Nowhere does Christ condemn the mere possession of earthly goods as such. Instead, he pronounces very harsh words against those who use their possessions in a selfish way, without paying attention to the needs of others.
The Sermon on the Mount begins with the words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit”. And at the end of the account of the Last Judgment, as found in Saint Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus speaks the words that we all know so well: “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was away from home and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing. I was ill and in prison and you did not come and comfort me” (Mt 25:42-43).
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus must always be present in our memory; it must form our conscience. Christ demands openness to our brothers and sisters in need—openness from the rich, the affluent, the economically advanced; openness to the poor, the underdeveloped and the disadvantaged. Christ demands an openness that is more than benign attention, more than token actions or half-hearted efforts that leave the poor as destitute as before or even more so.
We cannot stand idly by, enjoying our own riches and freedom, if, in any place, the Lazarus of the twentieth century stands at our doors. In the light of the parable of Christ, riches and freedom mean a special responsibility. Riches and freedom create a special obligation. And so, in the name of the solidarity that binds us all together in a common humanity, I again proclaim the dignity of every human person: the rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God, both of them equally redeemed by Christ, at a great price, the price of “the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pt 1 :19).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, with deep conviction and affection I repeat to you the words that I addressed to the world when I took up my apostolic ministry in the service of all men and women: “Do not be afraid. Open wide the doors for Christ. To his saving power open the boundaries of states, economic and political systems, the vast fields of culture, civilization and development. Do not be afraid. Christ knows what is in man. He alone knows it” (October 22, 1978).