ColumnsNaming Grace

Woe to the complacent

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On a freezing cold January day with harsh winds and driving snow, there stood a man shivering as he waited for a bus on the other side of the highway. His body braced against the wind, while his hands cupped his mouth in an effort to ease the cold. I thought about turning around, but I was running late for a hot latte with a friend … and surely someone else would help him. I was complacent, and I carried on.

“Woe to the complacent,” warns the prophet Amos. Woe to those who are satisfied with their own lives while others struggle. Woe to those who speed past, turn away, step over or ignore because they’re too busy. Woe to those who won’t spare a dime, a dollar or a hand up because they’re too comfortable. Woe to those who can’t be bothered.

In his Sept. 13, 2016, homily, Pope Francis cautions against complacency, often rooted in indifference, comfort, or self-preservation. “We are accustomed to this indifference, when we see the disasters of this world or small things: ‘What a shame, poor people, look how they are suffering,’ and then we carry on.” We carry on. We carry on while one more refugee drowns, one more man loses his job, and one more baby is aborted. We yawn as the great chasm between the haves and have-nots widens, deepens. We shed a tear, and then switch channels.

In this Sunday’s Gospel, the rich man was complacent, content with his sumptuous living, while indifferent to the suffering of Lazarus, lying at his door. Woe to the complacent, for complacency kills the bodies of suffering brothers and sisters. Woe to the complacent, for complacency kills the souls of those whose hearts grow cold while warming their own hands.

As parents and grandparents, we name grace—God’s living presence—when we teach our children to not carry on as usual when another in their presence is struggling/suffering: it’s not okay to keep playing and ignore your sibling who is hurt; it’s not okay to open your milk carton while a classmate sits alone in the school cafeteria, day after day; it’s not okay to purchase another—you name it—when a neighbor lacks basic necessities. We name grace when we model for our children eternal values: faith, love, patience, gentleness, kindness, inclusivity, compassion and sacrificial generosity.

As I cupped my hot mocha latte, the Holy Spirit convicted me: “Woe to the complacent! How dare you sit contently while your brother is freezing?” Since then, whenever the temperatures drop and sharp winds blow, I’m on high alert for anyone shivering—even if it means turning around, being late or interrupting my plans—for my eternal life depends on it. In Dante’s Inferno, the description of the deepest circle of Hell is a place where the worst sinners are “covered wholly by ice,” suffering “separation from the source of all light and life and warmth.” Woe to the complacent, for Hell is reserved for those of icy indifference and cold-hearted self-interest.

In the Gospel, it’s too late for the rich man, but God willing, we may be gifted with another day to break our own complacency and warm those suffering at our door. Now, that’s good news!

Who is suffering in your home, school or workplace?

How can you break a sense of complacency in your life?

Naming Grace in the Domestic Church reflects on the Sunday readings through the lens of a parent/grandparent, aiding parents in their vital task as “first preachers” of the Good News in the home.