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26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (25.09.16)
Are You Complacent Or Complaisant?
Were you compiling your CV would you include complacency among your attributes? On the other hand, you may wish it to be known that you were of a complaisant disposition. Confused?
The two words, similar in pronunciation, have entirely different spellings and meanings. ‘Complacent’ means smug or self-satisfied. ‘Complaisant’ means ‘willing to please’.
The 26th Sunday’s First Reading, from the prophet Amos (6: 1,4-7), leaves the reader in no doubt as to whom God has in his sights. It is those who are ‘complacent’. Without using the word explicitly, Jesus’ parable in the Gospel (Luke 16:19-31) also implies a culpable complacency among those who abide in the rich man’s house.
When ‘complacent’ is used to describe a person’s attitude to a condition or situation, there is the inescapable implication that that person had to have prior knowledge and awareness to a sufficient degree. In other words, it is impossible to be complacent about something of which one is unaware or substantially ignorant. But it is worth remembering that we can also be culpably ignorant. In which case, culpable ignorance may constitute a form of complacency.
So, if we look at the Gospel for this Sunday (Luke 16: 19-31) some would believe it reasonable to deduce that the rich man was culpably insufficiently aware of the poor man, Lazarus, “lying at his door” and classify this as a form of complacency meriting God’s condemnation. The complacent invisibility of ‘Lazarus’ continues in our 21st. century as Blessed (soon to be Saint) Mother Teresa of Calcutta never tired of proclaiming.
We can divide complacency into ‘aggressive’ and ‘non-aggressive’. Aggressive complacency is when someone uses smug, self-satisfaction to assert dominance, control and financial gain to the detriment of another or others. Non-aggressive complacency can be thought of as a deliberate form of selfish inertness.
In the Gospel, it is interesting to note that the un-named, deceased ‘rich man’, in his torment in the netherworld (Hell), never claimed prior ignorance of Lazarus. In fact he identifies Lazarus by name in his dialogue with Abraham: 'Father Abraham, have pity on me. Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am suffering torment in these flames.' Perhaps there were several Lazarus’ lying at his door.
People speak of ‘being lulled into a false sense of complacency’. We hear people saying: ‘Somebody somewhere will be doing something about it’. The skill of the ultimate deceiver, Satan, should never be underestimated. In our western democracies, for example, the Devil never promotes outright atheism because belief in God is deeply entwined in the histories of our nations. Rather, Satan works to diminish people’s dependence upon Christianity a) by highlighting the truly enormous strides humanity has made in science and technology and b) by tempting us to become increasingly selfish and self-centred and c) by continually exposing the sinful complacency of the Christian church when faced with its own sinfulness.
Britain, for example, has many national religious traditions that, superficially, make us appear to be Christians. For example, the British Parliamentary day begins with official Christian prayer. What follows in the House of Commons may be far removed from God’s Ten Commandments. Appearances can lull us into a false sense of complacency that all is well between God and our peoples. How different is the real truth.
Athletes at this summer’s Olympics in Rio de Janeiro demonstrated the very opposite of complacency. Their training discipline over the past four years has been uncompromising. Each knew that, without that level of dedication to their sport, the possibility of medal success would not be theirs. Such collective dedication proves that, when the goal is believed in, people are willing to make the appropriate effort.
For Pope Francis ‘Lazarus’ has never been invisible neither in Argentina nor in the Vatican. For him, ‘Lazarus’ may be the homeless begging in the shadow of St. Peter’s basilica or the sin-damaged layperson, cardinal, priest, nun or brother. None are ignored though not all may be known by name. Since the days of his youth Pope Francis has been acutely aware of the plight of others and has responded accordingly. The rich and powerful of Buenos Aires did not appreciate the Archbishop who had more time for the poor than for them. That said, their Archbishop would hear their genuine cry but he would not allow himself to be used as decoration for their egotistical lifestyles.
The Second Reading for this 26th Sunday (Letter to Timothy 6: 11-16) is both timely and appropriate. St Paul, drawing on his own painful experience of dedication, is encouraging the young bishop Timothy how to live his Christian vocation. Paul urges Timothy to see it as a challenge to grow daily in God’s grace. In encouraging Timothy to ‘pursue’ righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience, gentleness, to lay hold of eternal life, to keep the commandments, Paul is implicitly saying that, for the Christian, to live a life of virtue will never be a ‘fait accompli’ but always a daily battle that will last as long as we draw breath.
The medal winners at this summer’s Olympics know that, if they are young enough, their preparation for the Olympics of 2020 begins now!