The Preferential Option for the Poor is a basic principle of Catholic social teaching. It essentially underscores that we are our brother’s keeper, especially where it concerns the most vulnerable among us including unborn children, persons with disabilities, the elderly and terminally ill, and victims of injustice and oppression. This responsibility is the focus of this past Sunday’s readings, especially Jesus’ message to the Pharisees (and us) in the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus.
Is material wealth a sin? In short, no. However, what we do with our prosperity matters greatly. The second reading about “pursuing righteousness” is taken from Timothy’s instruction to the rich about making good use of their wealth. It is preceded by, “For the love of money is the root of all evils, and some people in their desire for it have strayed from the faith…” (1 Timothy 6:10). It is followed by, “Tell them to do good…thus accumulating as treasure a good foundation for the future, so as to win the life that is true life” (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
You can’t take it with you. In the gospel reading, what was the rich man’s sin? Sloth, for one. In some ways, it is the easiest sin to commit, because it requires us to simply do nothing, which is exactly what the rich man did. He couldn’t claim ignorance; Lazarus was lying at his door! He surely must have heard him groaning in agony and would have stepped over him when coming or going. The rich man had made an idol of his wealth, loving it more than his fellow man. He desired no relationship with God, which is precisely what he received upon his death.
Learn from history. In the first reading, Amos admonishes “the complacent in Zion.” Their brothers to the north acted similarly and were wiped out by the Assyrians. Zion’s lack of concern for their brothers’ plight was trumped only by their failure to learn from it and mend their ways. Have we grown complacent to the cry of the poor? The Catholic saint calendar, especially this past month, is filled with examples of those who have illuminated our responsibility to care for the poor: Bl. Mother Teresa of Calcutta (Sept. 5), Bl. Frederick Ozanam (Sept. 7), St. Peter Klaver (Sept. 9), St. Thomas of Villanova (Sept. 10), and St. Vincent de Paul (Sept. 27).
Catholicism 101. Sloth is classified as a capital sin (along with pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, and gluttony), because it leads to other sins. For example, the rich man’s sloth led him to neglect his responsibility to care for Lazarus. Capital sins are also often linked to the virtues they oppose. Sloth is often discussed in opposition to diligence, which is described as an appropriately zealous attitude toward living and sharing the Faith.