The Marriage and Family Life Office works to promote healthy, happy, and holy family life. We support parishes in the areas of marriage preparation, marriage enrichment; natural family planning; grief support for all ages; troubled marriage support and more. The office also assists lay Catholic organizations and apostolates in their work related to families and parishes. This is a member office of the Office of the Domestic Church and Discipleship.
Blog: Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph
(‘The Preaching of St. John the Baptist’ by Alessandro Allori, c. 1601-1603, oil on copper.)The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living
Deacon Scott McKellar
Advent is a season of watching and preparing. At this time of year, many people are cleaning, decorating their houses and buying gifts, in order to be ready for the celebration of Christmas. In a spiritual sense, we are preparing to welcome Jesus who is our most esteemed guest this Christmas.
John the Baptist is the perfect patron for Advent. John called people to acknowledge their sins and repent. He asked them to make a commitment to change their lives and to give witness to this commitment through a baptism of repentance.
Although there are some similarities, John the Baptist’s baptism was not yet a Christian sacrament. He reminds us that Jesus is “the one mightier than him,” that Christ would baptize with the “Holy Spirit and fire.”
It is interesting to note that knowledge and credentials do not guarantee that one is on the right path spiritually. John tells the Pharisees and Sadducees to produce fruit in keeping with repentance and rebukes their ‘presumption’ that they will be saved merely because of their religious background and training.
As someone has wisely said, ‘God has no grandchildren.’ We cannot presume that because of the faith of our family, school or parish, that we necessarily have personal faith ourselves.
John the Baptist is offering people a chance for conversion. Our bishops have defined conversion as “the acceptance of a personal relationship with Christ, a sincere adherence to him, and a willingness to conform one’s life to his. Conversion to Christ involves making a genuine commitment to him and a personal decision to follow him as his disciple” (NDC, p. 46).
Many people seem to think of conversion as a light switch. They might think that to experience conversion you need to be in darkness and then to suddenly turn on the light. We might get this impression from John the Baptist who starkly cries out, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
There has been a renewed interest recently in studying how conversion or spiritual change occurs in the lives of Christians. While clearly some people do undergo sudden dramatic conversions, we have discovered that for most people, conversion is an ongoing process with definable stages.
Because conversion is primarily about relationship and the heart, a helpful comparison might be the process one might go through to make a decision to get married. We need to journey through the early stages of getting to know someone, and then eventually as the relationship deepens, to develop personal trust and attachment. It is only after journeying to a place of deep trust and attachment that a couple thinks of forming an exclusive, permanent lifelong commitment.
So, we might ask, if we want to experience deeper conversion in our faith, do we start by dating Jesus? This question definitely sounds odd, but there is an element of truth in it. When interviewed about their faith, a large number of people said they came to a deeper and more meaningful relationship with Christ by spending time alone with Christ either in prayer or in the devotional reading of the Bible.
At some point, these individuals begin to spend time alone with God and to pray and listen to him in their hearts. This is not time spent reciting prayers, but a time of conversational prayer with God. It is through a personal relationship with Christ that we learn to trust and attach ourselves to Christ, and then ultimately become willing to conform our lives to his.
Other Christians describe a similar experience of spiritual awakening, but instead of focusing on prayer, they describe an encounter with Christ through Sacred Scripture. In a sense, this is another way to begin to listen to God and to become aware that he is alive and interested in our lives.
This is not just studying the Bible as history, or as a great narrative story. When these people describe the change that has taken place, they have discovered that the Scriptures have a practical meaning for their life. They began to ask themselves, what does this passage mean to my life? Or perhaps, what is God saying to me personally in this passage? Again, the important point is that the Bible becomes a means to develop relationship with God.
While certain people have emphasized either prayer or Sacred Scripture as their primary means of change, it is obvious that both of these practices work together. We can spend time alone with God and read the Scriptures asking ourselves what God is saying to us personally. We can then talk to God about what we have discovered while relating it to our life and needs in conversation with God.
This is precisely the method suggested by St. Teresa of Avila for a time of prayer and reflection on Sacred Scripture. She suggests we begin with a time of preparation and adoration. Set aside your immediate thoughts and concerns and enter into an attitude of prayer. We can offer him our adoration in words of love. We then read a passage from Sacred Scripture and consider its meaning.
Next, having given ourselves some material to think about, we begin a loving conversation with our Lord. We can express our love for him and thank him for his favors to us. We can tell him the things that burden us and take time to petition him. We can relate this to the Scripture we have just read and ask him for further insight and application.
Finally, we can ask him for the courage to make new resolutions and to examine ourselves on our spiritual progress. We can conclude our time of prayer with an act of thanksgiving.
Imagine what would happen in our homes and parishes this Advent, if each one of us would commit to spending regular time alone with Jesus in prayer and in meditation on Sacred Scripture.
Deacon Scott McKellar is pastoral associate at St. Therese Parish, North.
God’s Word in Everyday Living
This week’s second reading, Colossians 1:12-20, is a Christological powerhouse. There are many profound things I could write about from this short passage. But one stands out above the others deserving the spotlight. It’s one sentence that captures the heart of Christian faith. In verses 1:13-14 Paul says, “He has delivered us from the dominion of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.” This simple verse is the core of Christian belief, the central point of all Catholicism — how we are saved.
Imagine you’re in an ancient Jewish courtroom standing trial. The charge is association with someone who committed an offense. If found guilty, that association makes you subject to punishment, as well. However, if the court finds you not guilty, you will be “justified,” or found in right standing. In this case you’d be exempt from punishment. Not only that, your status in the community would be restored. Instead of an outcast criminal, you’d be again considered an upright member. In Israel, the Mosaic Law also played a part in the trial. A guilty verdict could mean the loss of more than mere community status. Inclusion in the community was tied up with God’s covenant. Lose secure standing in the covenant and you lose its blessings, as well. The stake is salvation.
Paul’s language about salvation comes from the courtroom. He’s speaking in terms his audience would understand, the ancient juridical process. Justification comes up a lot in another of Paul’s letters, Romans. In particular, verses 5:16-19:
“And the free gift is not like the effect of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brings justification. If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Then as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (emphasis added).
This passage can be difficult to understand. Simply put, Adam’s sin led to condemnation for all of humanity because as the first-born he represented everyone. As the first-born of the new creation, Jesus Christ represents everyone, as well. The free gift of Christ’s life sacrificed on the Cross makes up for the trespass of Adam. The second man’s righteousness brings acquittal from the first man’s condemnation. Now this acquittal is meant for all, but at first Jesus is the only recipient. How does it get to the rest of humanity? All of us are given a choice. Associate yourself with the first man, Adam, and you incur the result of his sin … loss of eternal relationship and communion with the Father. Or, you could believe in Jesus’ promise of eternal life in relationship with God and associate yourself with him.
It’s like a class-action lawsuit. Say someone sued a company for a faulty product, and because you bought that product, you’re given the decision to side of the plaintiff. If he wins, you get a share of the rewards. But you must make that decision known. If you don’t, there’s no money. This is where Colossians 1:13-14 comes into play. Paul says the Father “transferred us” from the “dominion of darkness” to the “kingdom of his beloved Son.” So, he allows us “to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” because we “have redemption.” Justification in a religious sense means being in right relationship with God. It’s God declaring us “not guilty” of association with Adam’s trespass. When we decide to believe in Christ, to follow him, and make him the center of our lives, God transfers us from Adam’s family into his own family. Adam is no longer our representative; Christ is … and so we receive Christ’s grace and blessings. This is clearly echoed in the Council of Trent which said justification “is a transition from that state in which a person is born a child of the first Adam to the state of grace and adoption as children of God through the agency of the second Adam, Jesus Christ.”
Additionally, we’re not just pronounced justified. God’s Word is power and creative action. God’s declaration of righteousness makes us inwardly righteous. Incorporation in Christ changes us. First, when we have faith and commit ourselves to Jesus. Then, in a real way through Baptism, which makes us true children of God, adopted sons in the Son. The final blessing of covenant community with God comes at the end of time with the Last Judgment.
That one, simple sentence encapsulates the central principle of the Christian Faith — the Gospel Message. God created us to be in communion, in relationship with himself. However, Adam’s trespass destroyed that relationship. Christ’s sacrificial death atoned for Adam’s sin and made it possible for mankind to have relationship with God once again. Now God invites you to change your association. He asks you to make Christ your representative, the Lord of your life. It’s a simple decision. Your decision. God won’t force you. You must fully commit, though. You can’t have one foot in and one foot out. Go all the way or you’re still in association with Adam. Are you committed to Jesus? Is he the center of your life? Your decision changes the court’s ruling.
Marc Cardaronella is the Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.
The Resurrection by Sebastiano Ricci, circa 1715. Oil on canvas, Dulwich Picture Gallery.The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living
Deacon Scott McKellar
Pharisees and scribes frequently confront Jesus in the Gospels, but in this passage, Sadducees question him. The Sadducees were the Palestinian aristocracy who took the name of their party from Zadok, the high priest at the time of David and of Solomon.
The Jewish historian Josephus tells us that the Sadducees claimed that the soul perished along with the body at death. St. Luke confirms this point describing the Sadducees as, “those who deny that there is a resurrection” (Luke 20:27). The Sadducees favored the first five books of the Bible, and denied the existence of angels (Acts 23:7–8).
The Sadducees confront Jesus with a dilemma story, which they use to disprove the resurrection. According to the laws of Levirate marriage (Genesis 38, Deuteronomy 25:5–10), if a married man died childless, his brother was required to marry his widow and to produce a male child. “The firstborn son she bears shall continue the name of the deceased brother” (Deuteronomy 25:6).
This type of marriage was a popular as means of caring for widows and securing property rights. Arranged marriages at this time had more to do with land, inheritance, and kinship bonds, than with mutual love.
Using the laws of Levirate marriage, the Sadducees present an absurd dilemma to trap Jesus. What would happen if a certain widow married a second time to her bother-in-law, and then he in turn died childless? In the Sadducees story, the widow eventually marries seven brothers, each of whom dies childless. Finally, the woman herself dies.
Attempting to make their point, the Sadducees ask, “Now at the resurrection whose wife will that woman be? For all seven had been married to her.” The Sadducee’s believe this line of argument proves that the resurrection is a ludicrous idea.
Jesus counters by first pointing out that the dead who rise will “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” Again, reaching across different cultures, the primary purpose of marriage in the ancient world was the production of children. The dead who rise will no longer die, so Jesus says they will be ‘like’ or ‘equal to’ the angels who also never die and have no need to produce children to perpetuate their kind.
What does Jesus mean when he says the resurrected children of God are like angels? In popular culture, it is common to tell someone who has recently lost a love one that they “now have an angel in heaven.” God created angels as beings of pure spirit. Unlike angels, humans have a body and a soul. Although our body temporarily separates from our soul at death, this is not our final state. At the resurrection of the dead, our souls will be reunited with eternal resurrected bodies.
Although our transformed bodies will be very different from our present bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35–58), we will still spend eternity not as spirits but in bodily existence. Jesus says we will be like angels because we will never die, not because we become angels. Since we will no longer die, marriage is not necessary in our heavenly existence.
Jesus then uses Scripture to answer the Sadducees. He could have quoted Daniel 12:2-3, which is a clear reference to the resurrection, but since the Sadducees especially reverenced the traditions of Moses, Jesus makes his point from Exodus. In the narrative at the burning bush the Lord says, “I am the God of Abraham . . . of Isaac . . . and of Jacob.” (Exodus 3:2–6). Jesus says God “is not God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive” (Luke 20:38).
What does this encounter with Jesus mean to us today? First, many people in our modern world treat religious doctrine and dogma, as an infringement on their personal right to choose whatever beliefs they want. They simply seek to be ‘spiritual’ in their own way. Does it really matter to Jesus what we believe about the resurrection? Based on this Gospel, we would have to say; “Yes, the resurrection matters to Jesus.”
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, if Christ is not raised from the dead, our faith is in vain (1 Corinthians 15:16-18). Without the resurrection our faith is a fraud and meaningless! Why is this the case? The resurrection teaches us three central things about our faith. First, the resurrection demonstrates God’s love for us. Secondly, it is through the resurrection we have eternal life, and finally the resurrection holds us each accountable before God’s judgment.
Christ demonstrates both his desire for connection and his personal vulnerability, by taking the initiative in sharing his love with us. God’s love is a gift, which we do not have to earn. St. Paul writes, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
Not only is the resurrection a proof of God’s love, it is also the means of eternal life for us. Jesus humbled himself taking on human flesh so that he might become “obedient to death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8) and after this to rise to newness of life and to share that life with us in baptism (Romans 6:4).
Finally, if death is simply the end of our existence and there is nothing else, then there is no accountability. Without the resurrection, who cares! We simply cease to exist.
On the contrary, we confess in the creed, “He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.” Love is always our starting place, and even though we were each chosen for adoption as God’s children before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 1:4), we are still held accountable for our own freely chosen actions in this world.
In truth, nothing could be more central to our faith than the resurrection. God reveals his love and manifests his power to save us on the cross and through Christ rising from the dead. Duty may induce us to some actions, but love will move us to selfless sacrifice. “For the love of Christ impels us, once we have come to the conviction that one died for all; therefore, all have died. . . . so that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised” (2 Corinthians 5:14–15).
Deacon Scott McKellar is pastoral associate at St. Therese Parish, North.
Pic: The Pharisee and the Publican – mosaic, Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo, Ravenna, Italy, 6th c.The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living
This week’s Gospel, Luke 18:9-14, highlights the importance of humility. It’s the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. The spiritual masters often call humility the foundation of the Christian life. It’s the fundamental attitude for approaching God. 1 Peter 5:5 says, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” The parable this week illustrates that very point. So why is humility so vital and what does it look like? That’s what we’re here to find out.
Who were the Pharisees? Pharisees dedicated themselves to interpreting the Mosaic Law, living according to it, and making sure others did, as well. Throughout Israel’s history, big problems came from people being unfaithful to God’s commands and failing to follow the Law. The Pharisees were all about setting that right, which is not a bad intention. They just approached it wrong. For the Pharisees, Israel could only remain faithful to the Law by being separated from the Gentiles who lived all around them. Their name even means “the separated ones.” Separation and Jewish national identity came through cultural symbols like circumcision, keeping the Sabbath, observing the laws surrounding food, and giving tithes. These rituals and precepts set Israelites apart. They were signs of Israel’s status as God’s chosen people. However, the Pharisees were so caught up in the exactness of external observances, they missed the real meaning of the Law—justice and mercy. From the outside, they looked perfect and followed the Law in trivial detail. But on the inside this perfection led to sinful pride, resentment, and disdain. Their zeal for God’s Law led them to sin…and to missing their own salvation.
Now, it’s easy to judge the Pharisees, but it doesn’t take much to fall into this trap. Have you ever seen someone that looked out of place at Mass and thought, “What are you doing here?” Maybe they aren’t dressed well, or they don’t seem to know what they’re doing. Perhaps they talk during the consecration, look at their phone, or act distracted.
When I was a parish Director of Religious Education, one of my jobs was preparing parents for their child’s baptism. Most of the time, parents were coming to us before the birth so they could baptize the child right away. That’s the way you’re supposed to do it, right? Every Catholic knows you baptize your baby after a few weeks…a month at the most. But sometimes we encountered people who weren’t on the right “timeline.” They had waited a few years (maybe even 8 or 10). There were many different reasons, but usually they just got busy with life and stopped attending church. The point is, they were outside the norm. Some baptismal prep catechists had a hard time welcoming these “irregulars.” They wanted to shake them and say, “What are you thinking? Why did you wait so long? Why haven’t you been living the perfect Catholic life? You need to do that before we can baptize your child!” But the Church sees Infant Baptism as a special time of conversion, and baptismal prep as a time to welcome the lost, even if they are irregular.
Anyone can develop this attitude. There’s a tendency to view the Church as a club for those who have arrived. The people who belong are the ones who do all the right things. They go to Mass every Sunday. They say their prayers. They tithe. They baptize their babies a few weeks after birth. But really, it’s a hospital for the spiritually sick. Who belongs there? Only sinners. If you’re not a sinner, there’s no place for you in the Catholic Church.
So, when the Pharisee goes to the Temple to pray he says (and I’m paraphrasing), “Thank you, God, for making me who I am, a righteous man who follows your every law, and not a dirty sinner like that tax collector” (ooh, fail). Why is that wrong? In verse 9, it says the Pharisee relies on himself for his salvation. He’s thanking God but really, he’s just boasting about his own greatness. He’s prideful and that pride leads him to look down on everyone else. Since he doesn’t need any help from God (he’s got this holiness thing wired) he remains in sin…unforgiven and unjustified.
The tax collector says, “God, be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). This is the right attitude in prayer. Why? Because we’re all sinners and right off the bat he acknowledges this. Not one of us has it ALL together! And, we must recognize this when we come before God or he can’t work with us. The tax collector acknowledges his spiritual sickness and need for God’s help and healing. He knows he can’t save himself and so he relies on God.
Catechism 2559 says, “But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or ‘out of the depths’ of a humble and contrite heart? He who humbles himself will be exalted; humility is the foundation of prayer.” Humility is acknowledging you are broken and need God’s help to be whole. It’s the willingness to let go of what you know and take on the mind of God. It’s the recognition that you can’t save yourself and must rely on him. Empty yourself and be open to receiving God’s mercy. Rely on the grace of the Holy Spirit instead of relying on your own superior ability to have it all together. Allow yourself to be led by God and watch your life change for the better.
Marc Cardaronella is the Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.
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God’s Word in Everyday Living
Deacon Scott McKellar
This Sunday’s reading from Luke’s Gospel is a very familiar story. Ten lepers approach Jesus and are healed, yet only one returns to give thanks. We can easily see the themes of healing, faith and gratitude, but there are other aspects to this story, which touch on all of our hearts. Lepers are not the only ones suffering from rejection, loneliness and feelings of unworthiness. Have these feeling ever touched you?
Leprosy in the Bible covered a wide variety of skin conditions, but none of them is what we mean by this disease today. While we do not know what kind of skin conditions these men had, we do know that, according to Jewish law, they were required to isolate themselves from normal society.
The social isolation and their subsequent rejection as “unclean” would have been more painful than the disease itself.
The rate of cure from these skin diseases was very low, in fact, first-century rabbis thought that the cure of a leper was as difficult as raising a person from the dead. If a leper recovered, they could only be restored to normal society after the priest examined them and after they had offered the prescribed sacrifice for purification (Leviticus 13–14).
Clearly, Jesus’ miraculous healings came to the attention of these ten men, and the promise of this good news brought them out of isolation. While they desired healing, they needed to have considerable courage to overcome the rejection they would have felt in their community. The lepers “stood at a distance” (Luke 11:12) and “raised their voice” to Jesus (17:13) so that they could keep respectful distance.
A disease caused the plight of these lepers, but their emotional circumstances parallel many people in our world today. Modern researchers have demonstrated that each one of us is hardwired neurologically for connection with others. A sense of secure connection with others is one of our highest needs.
Many people suffer from the fear of being disconnected from others. They often secretly fear that there is something about them, which if revealed to others, would cause other people to reject them because they would not be worthy of connection. The name we give to this fear of disconnection is shame.
The truth is that each one of us has from time to time experienced the feeling that “I’m not good enough.” The “good” which we are measuring with these feelings can vary widely. Some common themes might be the thought that I am not thin enough, rich enough, beautiful enough, smart enough, successful enough, promoted or appreciated enough. As a result, we often secretly fear that we are unworthy of connection with others.
Researchers tell us that shame is pretty much universal. Shame seems to play a digital track in our mind that says, “I’m never good enough” or if we get past this, “who do you think you are?” A leading relationship researcher, Brené Brown points out, that no one wants to talk about shame, and the less you talk about it, the more shame holds you in its grip.
Shame is different from guilt. Guilt is the feeling that we have transgressed some moral norm by our actions. I did something that I regret or that was bad. Guilt can be a healthy emotion that helps us to readjust our actions and lead us to grow. Shame simply says, “I am bad.” It is focused on self rather than behavior. Like the lepers in this Gospel, we can feel shame without actually having done anything wrong. Shame does not lead to spiritual growth.
Why do some people experience paralyzing shame while others seem to overcome these emotions?
The ten lepers illustrate the solution. The lepers feel rejected by their community because they believe their disease makes them unworthy of connection. The nearness of Jesus causes the lepers to choose come out of hiding and to allow themselves to be seen in all in their weakness.
The name for this courageous act of allowing oneself to be seen is vulnerability. Many people assume that vulnerability makes you weak. It actually takes a great deal of courage and authenticity to be vulnerable with others.
Modern researchers have demonstrated that we are all capable of vulnerability, and that vulnerability is the key catalyst to forming secure human connections. Shame can only grow and thrive in secrecy and darkness. Vulnerably releases us from the paralyzing grip of shame.
Brené Brown explains, “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage” (Rising Strong).
Although she does not use the word vulnerability, St. Teresa of Avila in her work, The Interior Castle, admonishes that the soul practicing prayer should spend much time in the room of self-knowledge. St. Teresa equates self-knowledge with humility. No matter how advanced a soul is it always needs self-knowledge or an awareness of what we were, what we are by the grace of God, what we would be without Him, and of the constant danger of falling if we rely on ourselves.
St. Teresa observes, “Without humility all will be lost” (IC, 13). Teresa warns that we must not only think of our own weakness but must “soar aloft in meditation” on God’s greatness. In prayer there are no secrets hidden from God, and he communicates his unconditional love to us.
In community, we must learn to accept who we are and be willing to let other see who we are. Having said this, of course this does not mean having no healthy boundaries, or privacy with others. It means the willingness to practice vulnerability.
There is also a danger of false humility or thinking that we are humble because of our weaknesses. St. Teresa observes that when the soul only thinks of its own weakness and never of God’s greatness there is a danger that we will not rise above our own nature by grace and remain burdened by cowardice and fear. Again, this sounds a great deal like a description of paralyzing shame.
Our Gospel today is a metaphor for our own journey with God in prayer. We need to be vulnerable first interiorly with ourselves and then before God. The presence of Jesus brought the lepers out of hiding. Being seen by Jesus allowed them to be healed. We need the courage to let our weakness be seen, and to allow ourselves to vulnerable.
Deacon Scott McKellar is pastoral associate at St. Therese North Parish.
Photo (detail): The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus – Engraving after Sir John Everett Millais, 1864.The Good News:
God’s Word in Everyday Living
Will money condemn you? This week’s gospel reading, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) seems to say that. I admit to feeling a bit of delicious righteousness when I hear this parable. This is the “make your poverty feel better” parable. When I get jealous of rich people with fancy stuff, or super talented people who do everything right, I think about this parable. “See,” I say to myself. “You’re getting your reward now, but I’ll get mine later in heaven.” Not that I’m as poor and sick as Lazarus. Perhaps there’s people in real poverty saying the same thing about me. But is that really what’s going on here? Is Jesus condemning riches and giving most of us “middle-classers” a satisfying hope of comeuppance? Probably not. Let’s dig deeper.
First, I want to point to the doctrine of the Particular Judgment. Everyone is judged immediately after death and rewarded, or punished, according to their faith and how they lived. Don’t confuse this with what we profess in the Nicene Creed—that Christ “will come again to judge the living and the dead and his kingdom will have no end.” That refers to the Last Judgment at the end of time. In this parable you see that individual judgment takes place right away and you go where you’re meant to go for all eternity—heaven (probably by way of purgatory) or hell. Boom! Just like that. Lazarus goes to a place of comfort and peace, the rich man to a place of torment and anguish. This is not Heaven and Hell…not yet. It can’t be because Jesus hasn’t yet opened the way to heaven by his saving sacrifice. Lazarus goes to “Abraham’s bosom.” This is another name for the Jewish place of afterlife, “Sheol” or the “Abode of the Dead.” It’s a place where the righteous awaited Christ’s redemption with blessed hope. Christ descended into this place after his death and before his resurrection to free these holy inmates and escort them to heaven. The rich man goes to Hades, which technically is not Hell although it doesn’t seem much better. Since they both have contact with Abraham, it’s possible this is also the waiting place…with previews of what’s to come. Nevertheless, there is a separation that can’t be bridged so no one is sneaking into the Bosom of Abraham from Hades…at least not if Abraham has anything to say about it.
Second, this parable teaches the inherent dignity of every person. Lazarus, poor and destitute, disgusting and full of sores, is still a human person and therefore of infinite worth. He’s not attractive or popular. He’s not influential. He doesn’t contribute much to society. He doesn’t have a huge social media following or tons of likes on Facebook. He’s nothing in society’s view. The refuse. An outcast reduced to begging on the street and even that doesn’t sustain him. But obviously he has a good heart and loves God. Every human person has dignity and worth in God’s eyes, as well as every Christian who sees with God’s eyes. Our worth is immeasurable despite the world’s appraisal, because we’re made in God’s image. We are all lovely because God loves us. We are worthy because God finds worth enough in us to die for. Our worth doesn’t depend on our beauty, talent, intelligence, wealth, power, or influence in the world. It’s not measured by what we do, but who we are inherently as sons and daughters of the Father.
So, what brought the rich man to such low estate after his death? Was it his wealth? Was it because he was rich and had tons of possessions? I don’t think so. Jesus never condemns wealth or the mere possession of goods. However, he has harsh things to say about those who are selfish and don’t think about others. The rich man is condemned because he fails to pay attention to Lazarus’ needs. Here is a man sick and starving to death right outside his door and he can’t even bother to give him the leftover food he throws out in the garbage. Never mind having to go out of his way to find someone to help. He literally steps over this guy every morning. No doubt he hates having to smell Lazarus when he passes him and wishes he was dead.
Are you your brother’s keeper? You bet you are! Pope St. John Paul II commented on this parable saying, “Riches and freedom create a special obligation. And so, in the name of the solidarity that binds us all together in a common humanity, I again proclaim the dignity of every human person: the rich man and Lazarus are both human beings, both of them equally created in the image and likeness of God, both of them equally redeemed by Christ, at a great price, the price of the ‘precious blood of Christ’ (1 Pet 1:19)” (John Paul II, Homily in Yankee Stadium, 2 October 1979).
So, will your riches condemn you? Probably not…but what you do with them might. Like it or not, we are all bound together. Our love for Jesus obliges us to love our neighbor as ourselves. You owe a debt of service to everyone you meet, which means looking out for their welfare and their needs. As well, you have a debt to help your brothers and sisters get to heaven. If your actions hinder that, you falter in your duty. Condemnation could ensue. If, however, your actions expedite another’s entry into blessedness, you in turn will be blessed. Something far greater than “Abraham’s bosom” awaits. How will you respond to the Lazarus’ you meet?
Marc Cardaronella is Director of the Office of Catechesis and Faith Formation.