Blessed Are the Middle-Class?
User’s Guide to Sunday
By Tom and April Hoopes
Sunday, Sept. 26, is the 26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C, Cycle II).
Sept. 29 is the feast of Sts. Michael, Gabriel and Raphael, the archangels. It’s a great day to remind your children of the story of the archangels. There’s a brief YouTube video about the archangels you can share with your children. Simply search “archangels” at YouTube and choose the Catholic News Agency video.
The Little Flower
Sept. 23 is Day 1 if you want to do a novena ending on the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux on Oct. 1.
EWTN.com/therese/novena.htm has one novena you can use. (If you have trouble finding it that way, just go to EWTN.com, then choose “Faith,” then “Devotions,” then “Novenas.”)
LittleFlower.org has a nice selection of brief reflections from St. Thérèse to read on Oct. 1 — or any day.
Amos 6:1, 4-7; Psalms 146:7-10; 1 Timothy 6:11-16; Luke 16:19-31
The first reading, from Amos, is one of those readings that can lead middle-class people to feel smug for not being rich:
“Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory, stretched comfortably on their couches. … They drink wine from bowls and anoint themselves with the best oils. … Their wanton revelry shall be done away with.”
We like to imagine that God is speaking to the people featured on “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” We who struggle with bills, however, deserve a pat on the back.
But even the Psalm should prevent that kind of smugness.
First, instead of just describing the “woe to them” people, it describes the “blessed” — and it doesn’t say “Blessed are they who are in a tight spot because they put too much on the credit card.” It says: “Blessed he who keeps faith forever, secures justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry.”
Second, it lists who the Lord specially looks out for. It lists “the blind,” “those who are bowed down,” “the fatherless” and “the widow.”
Both raise the bar on who gets bragging rights in the kingdom. Truly, the middle-class in America are not among those whose dire straits have gained special sympathy from the Lord.
A better image of the middle-class is given in the Gospel in the person of “Dives,” the traditional name for the rich man in the Gospel.
It is clear from the text that Dives ends up in a bad place: Probably hell, though some argue that he may be in purgatory. It isn’t clear from the text why he ended up there. Did he neglect Lazarus? The text doesn’t say so, though the implication is there.
But there is also evidence that it was his enjoyment of life’s pleasures that made him unfit for heaven. He had settled for pleasures much lower than what God offers.
It’s easy to settle for too little. In childhood it takes time for us to learn that there are foods that are better than macaroni and cheese. It takes time to learn that Saturday morning cartoons are subpar. And it certainly takes time — and effort — to learn what joys can be found in contemplation and a simple life. Those who never prioritize their life such that God is first never find a way to discover him. Often, extreme circumstances are what drive people to properly order their priorities.
The tragedy of Dives’ life is that he habituated himself to appreciate most the things that last the briefest amount of time. Even in the afterlife, Dives is mostly concerned about his physical comfort. He wants a drop of water — as if that were the root problem faced by someone who is “an abyss” away from God.
When he speaks to his heavenly visitor about how he can warn his relatives to live differently than him, he again wants to appeal to them in a sensational, sensorial way: He wants someone to rise from the dead to warn them.
It’s an ironic exchange, because Christ did in fact rise from the dead, and many in fact did believe because of that (though many rejected him despite that). It shows that God is willing to work with us where we are. Even we who are in Middle-Class America.
Tom and April Hoopes write from Atchison, Kansas,
where Tom is writer in residence at Benedictine College.