Sunday, September 25, 2016



Homily for My Three Masses at Cathedral of the Assumption
“For What We Have Failed to Do”
Rev. Ronald Knott
September 25, 2016

Cathedral of the Assumption - Diocese of Kingstown SVG

   There was a rich man covered with  purple
and fine linen who dined sumptuously every day.
Lying at his gate was a poor man covered with
sores who longed for the rich man’s table scraps.
Luke 16
Did you know that “doing nothing” can actually be illegal. Many countries, but not the United States, have “Good Samaritan Laws” that legally require citizens to assist injured people and people in distress. Failure to offer assistance in France can be punished by up to 5 years in prison or 100,000 Euros. This is actually the case of the photographers at the scene of Princess Diana’s fatal car accident. They were investigated for violation of the French Good Samaritan Law, for their failure to offer assistance. 

Did you know that “doing nothing” is not only illegal in many places, it can also be sinful as well. This is actually the case in today’s beautiful gospel story about a very rich man and a very poor man. Before we look at the sin here, a sin of omission, let’s look at this wonderful story in detail because it is the details that are so stark and shocking.

The rich man has no name, even though he has traditionally been called “Dives,” meaning “rich” in Latin. Dives, in today’s language, lived in a gated mansion, ate gourmet food every day and dressed in Armani suits. Lazarus, we are told, oozing with open sores, was dumped in front of Dives’ mansion. From there, this poor man could see loads of food being carried in and out of the mansion, just inside the gates. Poor Lazarus did not hope to share in that food. He simply longed for the opportunity to eat from the big baskets of scraps being loaded into the dumpster - but they were not even offered to him. Rich people back then wiped their hands, not on napkins, but on chunks of bread that were simple thrown away. Too weak from hunger to fight them off, alley dogs came and licked Lazarus’ open sores. 

Dives was filthy rich, but that was not his sin. Dives ate gourmet food every day and dressed in Armani suits, but that was not his sin. Dives did not even order his security guards to have Lazarus removed from around the gate! Dives did not verbally or physically abuse poor Lazarus! There is no indication whatsoever that Dives was evil. He didn’t do anything harmful to Lazarus. But that seems to be the point of the whole parable: the rich man did nothing wrong, he simply did nothing. His sin is that he didn’t even see Lazarus, and because he didn’t even see him, he did nothing! He was complacent! He was so absorbed in living his own cushy life that he didn’t even see the suffering right in front of him. 

Dives is like “the complacent” in our first reading today, lying on ivory couches, eating lamb chops and tenderloin, drinking fine wines and dabbing themselves in expensive perfumes while the people around them starved. Those were the people that the Prophet Amos condemned in the first reading.

Let me be clear on one thing. This gospel is not condemning wealth, but people who are self-absorbed, people who will not look beyond the ends of their own noses. You don’t have to be rich to be self-absorbed and blind to the suffering of those around you. Jesus did not condemn wealth. He taught, rather, that “to whom much is given, much will be required.” The richer you are, the more responsibility you have, but that does not let those of us who are neither rich nor poor off the hook! We all have a responsibility to notice the suffering around us. The sin here then, is not wealth, but the blindness that goes with self-centeredness. 

The first step to helping those around us who suffer is to notice them. We cannot do something about the poor and suffering without compassion for the poor and suffering and we cannot have compassion for the poor and suffering without first noticing them. 

I recently retired from Bellarmine University after 17 years of being a campus chaplain. Most of the students are middle class people. They are not rich but many have never seen real poverty. We offered yearly opportunities to notice the poor and suffering up close. There are some who have had their eyes opened in a dramatic way on trips to Guatemala and Appalachia. For some these trips have been life changing. Others have volunteered to work in places like nursing homes for the very old and places like the Home the Innocents for the very young. We call them “consciousness raising” experiences. These experiences wake them up and help them take notice, something Dives was unable to do until after he died. There he met poor Lazarus whom he never even saw sitting at his gate and regretted his blindness after it was too late. 

Just as poor Lazarus longed to eat the leftovers from Dives table, but nobody made and effort to get them to him, there are some people and organizations in my home town who do make sure that our leftovers are not wasted. These efforts began with noticing. Kentucky Harvest was started by a man who noticed that grocery stores and bakeries were throwing away perfectly good though outdated food, while many were hungry. That organization has spread to other cities. On one trip to Florida, I helped a local man of some wealth pick up flawed oranges from a citrus grove to take to homeless shelters. The dining hall at our Cathedral of the Assumption, which was built when I was pastor there for 14 years, is staffed by many volunteers who have fed thousands and thousands over the years by collecting leftover food from restaurants and food companies. That whole operation began when a few people started noticing the poor and the waste and brought them together in a brilliant solution. When I go to Nord’s Bakery close to my house, the people from the Franciscan Shelter House pick up day-old doughnuts to feed the hungry. I have always been impressed by the generosity of the Nord family, as well as the generosity of those who come to pick up the day old doughnuts and serve them to the hungry. 

My friends, the message today is simple: true Christianity is not just about avoiding evil, but more about doing good. In the eyes of Jesus, failure to do good is often just as sinful and doing evil. At the beginning of Mass, we confessed to “what we have done” and “what we have failed to do.” In another passage, Jesus tells the parable of judgment when people stand before God and ask, “Lord, when did I see you hungry?” Jesus answers them, “As long as you failed to do it to one of these, you failed to do it to me.” 

Maybe our biggest sin is not the evil we do to others, but the good we fail to do for them. Before we can do that, we have to look beyond the ends of our own noses, beyond what’s going on in our own lives, and notice the people around us and what is going on in their lives. For anyone to die of hunger in a rich country like mine is a sin, a sin committed by those of us who don’t see! 

I am down here at the invitation of Bishop Gordon, your former bishop. I wanted something to do that would open my eyes to the needs of others, rather than look for ways to pamper myself. This is my fifth trip so far. 

On my trips down here, I have been able to do a few things for you, but I have been blessed even more by what you have done for me. Just a couple of years ago, I had not even heard of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Now you keep helping me to see beyond what I would see every day at home from a rocking chair on my own front porch. Since I retired, I have learned a lot about you, yes, but I am teaching even more people about you – and they are taking notice and they are getting more interested!

St. John Church in Mesopotamia

St. Therese Church in Gomae


After a hard day of volunteering - a pre-dinner drink on the balcony.
Father Rex Ramos (Philippines), Father Tom Clark (Kentucky), Mr, Fergal Redmond and Mr. Martin Folan (Ireland).

We treated ourselves to a nice dinner at the Beachcomber Restaurant on the beach.
Most of us had grillled whole Red Snapper - and a second drink.

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