by Msgr. Joseph Calise
ALTHOUGH THE EXACT facts are not completely clear, the date March 13, 1964 will always be a black mark on New York’s reputation.
It was on that night that Winston Moseley attacked and killed Catherine “Kitty” Genovese. The early reports, which were later contested, said that her screams were heard by many neighbors in her Kew Gardens apartment complex, but they all ignored her. Several claims were later made that some calls were made to the police department and that others wanted to help, but because of the structure of the building and time of day, they could not see where she was.
Apathy at Its Worst
In any case, history remembers it as apathy at its worst. Perhaps motivated by fear, perhaps by complacency or a simple “it’s none of my business” attitude, those who chose not to do “something” won an uncomfortable place in our city’s memory.
In the Gospel today, the rich man begs from the netherworld for a drop of water from Lazarus’ finger and pleads that Lazarus might just warn his family of what could happen to them. Yet, when he was alive, he saw Lazarus’ suffering every day and passed by him every day.
It is hard to define his motivation. He does not seem evil. He is not unfeeling. He certainly shows great feeling when, from punishment, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers to repent before they too felt the same torment. But, in life he had not been responsive to the suffering around him.
In his autobiography, Confessions, the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau refers to a princess who, upon learning that the peasants had no bread during a famine, suggested: “Let them eat cake.”
Of course, the cake would have been even more difficult to come by since the ingredients would have been scarcer than those for bread. The insinuation was not that the princess was mean but that she was unaware. She never felt hunger – the thought of there simply being nothing to eat was so far from her experience that she could not comprehend what it meant.
The phrase has often been attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette as a criticism of her seeming aloofness to the plight of the poor in France during King Louis XVI, her husband’s reign. However, the phrase appears in Rousseau’s Confessions in 1765, when Marie Antoinette was just nine years old.
In the 2010 film, Grown Ups, Adam Sandler plays a successful Hollywood talent agent, Lenny Feder, who arranges for a campsite reunion with schoolmates when they come together for the funeral of their former coach. He uses the opportunity to teach his children, who have become accustomed to the comforts of life, that not everyone has the blessings they have.
The children surprise him by the end of film and actually adapt well to the less affluent lifestyle, even enjoying playing a game of telephone by connecting cans. His children were not spoiled. They were simply unaware that everyone did not live the way they did. As long as everyone had what they had, the thought of sharing was moot.
Finding the Hungry, Lonely
All around us, there are people who are hungry, lonely and frightened. There are many who live quietly desperate lives. There are those who live without the meaning of life that we find in Jesus through the Church. It would be easy if we simply had the choice to help them or not. The challenge, or rather the invitation, is to find these people.
Who are they? They are our neighbors, our children, our parents, our siblings and our friends. They are people we meet every day in school, on the bus and at work. They might be sharing our gym space or our dinner table. Some need our material support, perhaps through a parish St. Vincent de Paul Society. Others need our emotional and spiritual support, our time and attention.
To find them, we have to open our eyes and ears to the subtle cry for love. To help, we have to open our hearts.[hr]
Readings for the 26th Sunday of Ordinary Time
Amos 6: 1a, 4-7
Psalm 146: 7, 8-9, 9-10
1 Timothy 6: 11-16
Luke 16: 19-31[hr]
Msgr. Joseph Calise is the pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish, Williamsburg.