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The Mission of Lazarus to the Rich Man. (Part One) By Rev Fr Eugen Nkardzedze.

It was the practical concern of St. Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians that: “The one who had much did not have too much and the one who had little did not have too little” (8:15). This paper, based on the story Jesus told in the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31) about the Rich Man and Lazarus whom he referred to as a poor man, is generally a reflection on the above statement of St. Paul. It is a pastoral interpretation of that story in the light of the social teaching of the Church in an attempt to strike a healthy balance in the relationship between the rich and the poor through a recognition of the riches of the poor and the poverty of the rich.

Whenever mention is made of the poor we immediately think of what we could give to them rather than what we could receive from them because, the phrase “poor” in itself smacks of lack, absence and insufficiency. And when a poor person is approaching us, we immediately begin to think of what to give and hardly what we might be given or what we need to receive. This is the same spirit with which the story of Lazarus the poor man and Dives the rich man has been generally interpreted down the years. We are taking a different approach towards interpreting this parable by bringing out, not what the Rich Man failed to give to Lazarus, but rather what he failed to receive from him.

Pope Benedict XVI critically refers to “the pride of the rich who do not see Lazarus at the door and the misery of the multitudes that are suffering hunger and thirst.” It is precisely this pride that makes one fail to realize that, God can wrap precious gifts in a leper’s handkerchief. This is practically what he did in sending Lazarus to the Rich Man. God was as concerned for the soul of the Rich Man as he was for that of Lazarus.

All the elements of deprivation described in the situation of Lazarus cover the six characteristic requirements listed by Christ for the Judgment Day in the Gospel of Matthew namely attending to the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the ill and the imprisoned. These woes constitute the baggage of Lazarus, which effectively is the package for the Rich Man. As we would imagine, Lazarus was dressed in rags, lying at the door of the Rich Man, a sort of imprisonment; his body covered in sores. He was ill and languishing in hunger and thirst. This abject situation of Lazarus was God’s invitation to the Rich Man to be hospitable, to be kind, to be generous, to be charitable and to be compassionate. This was the missionary message of Lazarus. But the Rich Man refused to pay heed.

The description of the poverty of Lazarus is so graphic that its physical wretchedness is almost tangible. The message is so strong and intends to touch any normal human heart and move it to action. Lazarus is presented as lying at the door of the Rich Man; his body is covered with sores, which the dogs worsen by licking them. He is so hungry he would eat from the trashcan whatever is left over. The Rich Man in the meantime takes no notice of Lazarus. He is blind to the plight of this poor man. In fact, he despises him as “a man of sorrows wrapt in grief.” Maybe Lazarus is notorious at his door by always lying there. He has become a usual phenomenon. Yet his notoriety marks the characteristic insistence of a missionary.

We gradually realize what Jesus’ intent in painting an equally graphic picture of the Rich Man to contrast that of Lazarus. He deliberately portrays the outer state of the body of Lazarus to depict the inner state of the soul of the Rich Man as covered in sores and lying at the door of eternal life unable to possess it. On the other hand, the rich man’s outer beauty (dressed in purple garments and fine linen and dine sumptuously each day) depicts the inner and spiritual beauty of Lazarus. The two characters in the story present the picture of each other in the state of their bodies. Their bodies act like mirrors respectively reflecting each other’s inner state of beauty or ugliness.

When the story unfolds and matures in contrasting situations with the interchange of positions, which puts the rich man right into hell and Lazarus at Abraham’s right hand (which we shall randomly refer to as heaven), only then do we grasp the missionary purpose and role of the poverty of Lazarus. We realize then that, Lazarus is not being comforted in heaven as compensation for his earthly poverty, but precisely, because he has accomplished a mission – the mission of the poor to the rich. Like St. Paul, he has run the race to the finish. His presence at the rich man’s door then assumes a stunning missionary ambient by twisting the story to a classical tale of relationship, where the poor need the rich as much as the rich need the poor.

Lazarus, as missionary is sent to the Rich Man not only to beg but also to give. But just as the rich man refuses to give so does he refuse to take. He lacks the humility that would enable a rich man receive a gift from a poor man. In this way, he fails to celebrate what would refer to today as the spirituality of the Incarnation, which ultimate presents us with the prescription that in a finite world, it is also by receiving that we are able to give.

The Word became man by receiving flesh from the Virgin Mary. The Incarnation thus becomes the typical acknowledgement, by God, of the gift of the poor. God becomes man. God assumes human flesh in a most unassuming manner for in the Incarnation it is actually God who plays the role of the poor beggar, the “stranger at the door”, while humanity play that of the rich giver in a relationship with the Crucified God who allows human beings to give him life and to take it away.

The proper interpretation of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus therefore, provides us with another key to interpreting and appreciating the mystery of the Incarnation – the relationship between Jesus of Nazareth and the world he came to save. John Saward puts it that the

Incarnation is not invasion. In becoming man, the Son of God neither abandons His divinity nor absorbs our humanity. … So precious is our humanity to the assuming Word that He does not abolish or diminish it. He comes to beautify not destroy, to raise up, not to crush. … That is why, in taking flesh from the Virgin, He does not merely employ her as a passive instrument, but, with a kind of divine courtesy, asks for and makes possible her active content.

Giving to the poor by receiving from them is a humble challenge, which we appreciate most in the Incarnation. It teaches us that God begs from human beings not because he lacks, but precisely because he wants to give. The things he begs from us are the very things desires to give us. The Lord the Giver of life receives life from Mary his mother and asks for a drink from the woman of Samaria. Finally, on the Cross when, he asks for water to drink and is refused, he allows it to gush eternally from his side-wound to give salvific meaning to the rock that gave water to the Israelites in the desert at Horeb. (Cf. Ex 17:6).

Michael H. Crosby refers to such openness to receiving from the poor as necessary for “developing a spirituality for First World Christians”_ as it can help the materially rich to cultivate an integral, reciprocal, respectful and Incarnational relationship with the materially poor. Such is the relationship that matured between Jesus and his disciples where he declared: “No longer do I call you servants, … but I have called you friends” (John15:15). To get the message from the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, we need to set again the two tables that are characteristic in this story.

Two Tables
These are the rich man’s table and the poor man’s table. The one is physical, rich, feasible and visible, while the other of course, is spiritual, poor, delicate, invisible, and yet discernable. The poor man’s table is intimately Eucharistic and provides occasion for the Rich Man to gladly have his fill his soul from the scraps that fall from it. But while Lazarus has the humility to pick up the crumbs from the rich man’s table to fill his belly, the rich man does not have the same humility to pick up the crumbs that fall from Lazarus’ table. Consequently, his soul is famishing. We see this in the end results. As Luke records, “eventually Lazarus died” then too, the rich man. Lazarus dies first. But his death already marks the spiritual death of the Rich Man, because when Lazarus dies in his body the rich man dies in his soul. With the death of Lazarus, a veritable opportunity for saving the Rich Man’s soul is squandered. The lack of humility makes him really blind. Thus making true the statement of G.K. Chesterton that: “It is impossible without humility to enjoy anything – even pride.”_ Chesterton further asserts that: “Satan fell by the force of gravity.”_ One would suppose the rich man finds himself in hell by the same force – of pride and gravity. The English idiom has it that pride goes before a fall? Such is also the observation of St. Cyprian that, “eyes clouded with shadows of blackness and shrouded in night cannot see the needy and poor.” (To be continued)

Almsgiving: How much have we lent to God? By Lambert Mbom

Giving Hands

I believe that the true measure of “the what” of Lent resonates in “the how much” – a quantifiable entity. It is no accident that this season is called lent, literally the past tense of “to lend.”

The single element that defines the meaning of the passion and death of Christ is undoubtedly that of sacrifice. It is the highest and greatest sacrifice imaginable and even possible. It is with his blood that Christ paid the price to wring mankind back from the hostile enemy. No greater love than for a man to lay down his life for his friends. Hence the centrality of the Christian event is sacrifice. Lent provides us an extraordinary opportunity to sacrifice. And so, as we draw towards the close of this holy season, the question is: how much did we sacrifice this Lent.

Fasting “empties” into almsgiving. We fast so that others can feast. Our fasting is meaningless if not complemented with almsgiving. As seminarians, our Lenten fast impacted the less fortunate. We gathered the half-loaves of bread sacrificed during breakfast throughout Lent together with the bundles of meat and converted this to its financial equivalence and offered to the less fortunate in places like St Joseph’s children and adult home (SAJOCAH) Bafut and New Hope village where the Baptist leprosy center is located. Our fast then provided a real celebration at Easter.

On Good Friday, the Universal Church gathers all it has fasted from and provides to the Holy Father to help in his work of charity throughout the world. In facr, the Church in Jerusalem and throughout that region benefits from the Good Friday collections.

Many of us have grown in a culture that groomed us to be perpetual recipients. Paradoxically, we have not learnt to be donors. I believe very strongly that he who has not learnt to beg has also never learnt to give.
Within this context, it is worthwhile reflecting on Catholic Christians and financial generosity to the Church. How financially generous are we to our Church? One must admit that somehow Pentecostal churches do an excellent job in “fundraising.” Muslims understand this as well and practice “zakat” with religious fervor. So do the mega churches. It is worthwhile spending time to examine how some of us Catholics are not generous to the Church?

There is no denying it that many Africans resident in the US are not registered in their different parishes and one huge factor is the financial responsibility that comes with being registered in the parish. And yet we expect and demand services. The reason why the same people assume the noble task of God parenting in the parish from our communities is because many fail the basic test of being registered and of good standing in the parish. Many of us dread those envelopes meant for weekly contributions to the parish.

Most one dollar bills in collection baskets are often twisted beyond immediate recognition; or some Christians ask for envelopes during processions and most of these often have the one dollar bill. This is shocking even in the American context where church donations are tax deductible. We are still not incentivized to be generous. Are many of us not one dollar Christians?

A husband is said to have snatched a fifty dollar bill from the wife as she was about dropping it into the collection basket alarmed by the wife’s extravagance.

Last year after one of the Cameroonian priests explained the biblical foundations underpinning this practice of tithes, a lady sitting next to me was flustered and alarmed. She exclaimed and described the practice as an outrageous expectation. It was interesting following a discussion on whether tithing is biblical or not. http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2011/04/11/should-christians-tithe/

One wonders what the problem is, definitely not ignorance as one would imagine. Again it seems to be along the lines of a poisoned mindset. I believe it is more those games we have trained our minds to play on us sometimes play on us; call them baseless rationalizations. Just how do we rationalize away our financial duty towards the Church?

The very rational arguments some of us make include the following:
– The Catholic Church is a large multinational business and so donating to it is like taking coal to Newcastle.
– And those priests who drive posh cars, dress in the latest fashion, fight with us in bars, always in the company of women – our sisters, wives etc sexually abuse our kids and the list goes on…Would it not be disingenuous if I manage to come to Church even to be asked to contribute financially and hence bankroll these excesses.
– Is it not better to give to the poor individual than to give to the rich church? My generosity is more concrete and meaningful when I donate to the poor man down the street. After all, the invitation is: whatsoever you do to the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you do unto me. Not what we do to the Church.

Our attitude towards beggars around street corners invariably plays into our attitude towards generosity towards the Church. I worked for a Chinese dude before who was mad at me for donating to the poor. He was so furious and told me if I continued like that, I will remain eternally poor. He told me he never gives money to the poor because these beggars around street corners and thoroughfares gather the nickels, dimes, pennies and quarters and at the end of the day they add up. He recounted a story of a man who spent time at traffic lights begging from motorists. The man, he said confessed to him that on one Christmas day, he made $400 from panhandling. This reminded him of the story of a man in his country who from his daily earnings from panhandling became so rich that he bought a Mercedes Benz and lived in a luxurious apartment he had constructed.

And for those of us in large European and American cities, how often have we looked the other way when a beggar has approached us while we numb our consciences saying by giving to these folks we would be encouraging laziness America is a land of opportunity and so these folks have no reason to be on the streets begging. Worse still, with the smoking culture, the challenge becomes, why should one give money to somebody who would use it just to smoke cigarettes?

Increasingly the philosophy of not “how much” but “the spirit” with which one gives is what is important, is becoming popular. This matters when we are receiving but not when we are giving.
As Lent winds down, we are challenged to confront these rationalizations. The measure you give is the measure you will receive. God has helped us in all kinds of troubles that using the same help we may help others (2Cor.1:4).

Even though Christianity is declining in Europe and it is increasingly becoming secular, one lesson worth retaining is the Lenten sacrifices which led to the development of missions. The Lenten collections pooled to a common fund from which they are able to give grants to poor nations. Yes those posh cars driven by priests in our local Churches are donated from these funds.

All that we sacrificed during Lent should now be gathered and offered up for the good of a worthy cause. For those who drink beer, to use my favorite example, if we sacrificed drinking beer during Lent, then what is expected of us, is to convert the bottles given up into dollar amounts and give alms. Let some other person for whom beer drinking is a luxury they cannot afford, taste of it through our Lenten sacrifice.

Just for lent? Definitely, not. If anything, lent was meant to establish a habit in us, in this case of almsgiving. If you are not registered in a parish, please as part of the fruit of your Lenten harvest, do all to be counted. Then resolve that going forward you would not be an anonymous Christian. Give and you will receive. If all of us gave one tenth of our earnings, what a difference this will make.

Among the many opportunities the Church in the US has put at our disposal for contributing is the development agency known as Catholic Relief Services (CRS). Every year during Lent CRS launches a campaign called Operation Rice Bowl. This is how CRS describes it:
Operation Rice Bowl, CRS’ Lenten program, began in 1975 in the Diocese of Allentown, PA as a response to the drought in the African Sahel. For more than 35 years, Operation Rice Bowl has offered Catholics in the United States a way to connect with our brothers and sisters in need around the world.

Each Lent, nearly 13,000 faith communities across the United States participate to demonstrate solidarity with the poor around the world. Seventy-five percent of Operation Rice Bowl donations come to CRS to help fund development programs designed to increase food security around the world. Twenty-five percent of the donations support hunger and poverty alleviation efforts in dioceses within the United States.

Throughout the 40 days of Lent they have a guided conversation with individuals presenting the needs of the world, their services to the poor, meditation passages from the scripture and the social teaching of the Church. It is significant that rice is used to describe this campaign. Rice is the commonest meal everywhere in the world. Many of us grew up knowing that rice would at least be available on Christmas day and other central events. Follow the recommendations of this campaign and be generous. http://orb.crs.org/about/

The Cameroon Catholic Community of Washington DC will have its collection on Easter Sunday. This collection will help defray costs in shipping books donated from Nebraska for the new Catholic University of Cameroon, Bamenda (http://catuc.org/default.aspx). Please donate generously and help this community aid in the establishment of the library for this university.

Five Endearing Lessons from the Egyptian Revolution Indispensable to a Cameroonian styled liberation – Part II by Lambert Mbom.

The botched April 6, 1984 coup provides an essential key to unlock the mystery of a revolution in Cameroon. Cell phones were inexistent then in Cameroon. Even the common TV was a luxury very few could afford. Communication was mainly by radio and landlines (also a rare commodity).

Were any of those brutally executed 1984 coup plotters to rise up today, they would be shocked back into their graves by the sheer range of communications revolution that has occurred.

Let us return to the Egyptian paradigm. Many have pointed to the social media as a central piece of the revolution. Others have been quick to point out too that, these were tools put into effective use by change-hungry activists in Egypt. Facebook served as an enabling environment where months of planning on the virtual space empowered effective coordination necessary to transform national rage to national outrage, provide impetus and serve as a critical synergy point for strategy.

Even before Egypt, American politics was revolutionized by the 2008 Obama campaign with an aggressive online presence which translated into dollar amounts and votes – two crucial ingredients for the much trumpeted change.

Yet before we romanticize about the social media tools, one must repeat that Cameroon is not Egypt and in many ways Cameroonian exceptionalism is worth stressing even if ad nauseam. Egypt is quite a digitalized country with an impressive access to internet and the phone. Comparatively, Cameroon is still waking up to this reality. I was quite ecstatic, when a relation of mine, who is an attorney, sent me an email informing me that he was now “wired” as he was writing to me from the privacy of his living room, in Bambui – a village in the outskirts of Bamenda, the provincial capital of the North West.

There is no doubt that internet usage is popular in Cameroon in urban areas. One cannot fail to note that for a while now, young people have been very creative in their use of the internet, either to dupe unsuspecting westerners or amorous adventures: web dating. Some have found husbands and wives online.

The time has come for these personal gains to be transcended and translated into a national or if you prefer collective bonus.

One great communication asset is the cell phone. It is almost criminal, one could say, for anyone not to have a cell phone in Cameroon. If 60% of Cameroon’s population is youthful, what a bonus given the popularity of communication tools among this age bracket.

Having learnt the lessons from Egypt, any revolutionaries in Cameroon must be prepared to circumvent government’s Machiavellian style shut down of internet and cell phone communication in the event of an uprising.

Christophe Dongmo, in an article on The Army Wing of April 6, 1984 revealed that “The reason that was widely circulated to justify the failure of the coup in the public mindset was the failure of strategic telecommunications. In the early times of the coup, Major Benai Mpecke of the loyalist forces took control of the Mount Mbankolo radio transmission office. Though rebels managed to enter and seized the central office of Radio Cameroon and held its personnel hostage, their victory message to the nation did not go through the waves because a technician willingly disconnected transmission cables at the Soa highwaves station. As a result, the message was heard only in Yaounde. One wonders whether the outcome of the coup would have been different should the alleged message have gone through.”

One cannot fail to recognize that the recent move by the government of Cameroon to shut off twitter is a clear indicator of the challenges an Egyptian typed communication would face especially if you factor in the electricity quagmire with frequent power cuts the order of business. There is need for a social media formula for the Cameroonian equation.

The failure by social media enthusiasts to gain traction for their “Biya must go” campaign failed because of proper planning.

Planning: It must never be forgotten that the Egyptian revolution did not start in January but rather exploded it. January 2011 was rather a watershed moment.

One would agree that two extremes to be eschewed are represented in the sayings: Failing to plan is planning to fail and only fools rush where angels fear to tread; while one must with the same breath admit that it is by doing and daring that the Romans built Rome and not the cowardice some call caution. Many of us have become prophets after the event.

Wanting to ride on the coattails of the revolutions galore much in vogue is a smart move; yet one must figure the who, what, how to name but these. It is critical that with such a venture, the goal be clarified. In line with a celebrated saying, one must first of all determine where one is going to and then one will better determine the means.

One thing that is striking about the Egyptian Facebook experiment is that the administrators for this page were anonymous: Admin 1 & Admin 2. Even though largely to protect their identities, clearly in display was the selflessness of veritable leadership.

Some analysts have hinted that though not peculiar to the Cameroonian population, leadership or the want of it is the quintessential curse of many an African group. A primary issue worth pointing to is the mushrooming of different facebook for a similar cause. This in itself is not a bad idea given that if one is shut down then the others can continue. Yet this can only be so, if there is a proper coordination between the different fora which was clearly not the case. Unhealthy competition with each fighting to be in charge seems to have been an underlying craving.

Many more rulers than leaders suddenly emerge and given that many of us have not learnt to disagree without being disagreeable, schisms quickly emerge. It is either my way or the highway; Questions like who are you, what is your lineage? From which tribe are? What is your academic qualification? How much do you earn? Lie buried in our subconscious and play tricks with us or we consciously play them out and before we know it, such a salutary initiative dies even before it takes off.

One must admit that there are lots of challenges relative to the Cameroonian experiment. One which became annoyingly evident is that those at home look at those abroad with a lot of skepticism and I dare say envy. While those in the diaspora look at those back home at best condescendingly. Without the boots on the ground the project is sure to collapse. This applies also to the technological wherewithal and money from abroad. When we get these two to the drawing board, then the plan begins.

No one can deny that the failure of the April 6 coup hinged to a very large extent not on lack of planning but rather on poor planning. If history is anything to go by, then one has to look back at why other similar revolutions in Cameroon have failed. In the planning process, it becomes critical to seek answers to the questions: why did the April 6 coup fail? Why did the 1991 civil disobedience take off with so much steam and yet end in a fiasco? Or if you care, why has the vibrant SDF experiment lost its steam? One may want to borrow a leaf from the SCNC’s failed attempt to wean southern Cameroons from La Republique. Even just by limiting one’s self to the 2008 strikes, there would be enough to guide one to chart the course for a better action.

Or conversely, it is incumbent to “study” successful political ventures such as the bid for the GCE Board.
The value of such studies lies in the fact that it opens up vistas into the political maturity, peculiarities of the environment and affords one a rare insight into the political topography one needs to deal with. This is crucial in the development of a worthwhile strategy.

The point here is that any mindless attempt to replicate successful operations such as the Egyptian will not cut it. Political acculturation/inculturation is not only necessary but indispensable.

We must acknowledge that we are dealing with a very sophisticated opponent and need a lot of tact. Clearly, it is this failure to plan adequately that led to the lackluster performance last February. We can and must do better.

Daredevil Spirit:The spirit of commitment, courage and bravado led the Egyptians to success. The 30-year-old Ghonim, had a good job and a very promising future with two kids and a wife. He staked all these and was prepared to die to ensure the realization of the project. This spirit of sacrifice that has risen beyond personal ambitions and placed at the service of the common good is crucial. It is not enough to be disenchanted and enraged; unless this is translated into a sworn willingness to change the status quo which willingness is imbued with that sacrificial fervor it withers off as a pie in the sky. Given the recent outcome of the failed protests, it would be presumptuous to believe that Cameroonians truly want change. Cameroonians want change only if some other persons champion it or deliver it to them on a golden plate. It begs the question of whether Cameroonians are cowards or peace mongers.
Post Script:
On April 6, 1984, I was in primary school and hardly understood the meaning and the implications of this coup d’état. This coup changed the geopolitics of Cameroon in several ways. It is an unpardonable oversight to sweep this key event under the rug and fail to learn the lessons for future endeavors. Historical precedents serve as an entry point worth pondering. We cannot continue doing the same thing and expect different results.

The spirit of the Egyptian military in spite of its many drawbacks is one worth praising. The violence of the overzealous Egyptian police whose impunity and arrogance provided the impetus for the revolution was countered by a tempered Egyptian army which restrained itself even in the face of such provocation. This is a lesson for African armies.

The military in Cameroon are in the pockets of the commander-in-chief. This is why in spite of the general outcry by Cameroonians, they are comfortable. That a coup has not taken place in Cameroon is not the function of a disciplined military but rather because they are well catered for, you cannot bite the finger that feeds you.

The problems plaguing the military in Cameroon epitomize the Cameroonian pathology defined by indiscipline, celebrated tribalism, alcoholism and sycophancy. The Egyptian army for good reason broke its oath and instead of protecting one man against a nation, stood for the protection of national institutions and let the events run their course.

The daredevil spirit of the Egyptian revolutionaries was complemented by that of the Egyptian military. A Tiananmen Square-like bloodbath was averted thanks to the restraint of the military. The common good was protected against the whimsical and self-aggrandizing agenda of a despot. The Cameroonian military is not made up of some foreigners but our siblings.

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