White Mass in Fort Wayne

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This Jubilee Year of Mercy has been a blessed time for us to contemplate the infinite mercy of God as well as our calling to be merciful, to be witnesses of Christ’s merciful love. There’s been an emphasis this year on the corporal and spiritual works of mercy. I think that Pope Francis’ hope that these works would be rediscovered, so to speak, is being realized in many places, including here in our diocese. For you who serve in the medical profession, there is a special link to various works of mercy. I think especially of the corporal work of visiting the sick. You visit the sick to tend to their illnesses and to help them heal. I think also of the spiritual work of comforting the afflicted. The comfort you provide your patients is an important element of their healing and of their overall wellbeing.

In today’s Gospel, we heard Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The beggar Lazarus was in great need, including need of medical care since the Gospel says he was covered with sores. He was also hungry and needed food. I’m thinking he was probably homeless as well. He was living in misery. The rich man lived in luxury and egoism. He was indifferent to the suffering of the beggar on his doorstep. At the end of their lives, Lazarus was welcomed into paradise, whereas the rich man ended up in torment. Lazarus was received “in the bosom of Abraham” whereas the rich man ended up in Hades. Divine Justice prevails after their death.

It is good to reflect on this parable in the light of this Jubilee Year, to read it using the lens of mercy. There are two episodes in this parable. The first takes place on earth; the second in the afterlife. In the first scene, there’s the anonymous, nameless rich man. And there’s the poor beggar who is named, Lazarus, a name that means “God has helped.” The rich man showed no mercy to Lazarus. He ignored him. He ignored his suffering. He showed no compassion for this poor man lying there covered in sores, with dogs licking those sores.

The second episode of the parable is much longer. It occurs after the poor man Lazarus and the rich man both die. Lazarus is in heaven and the rich man is in the netherworld, hell. So let’s think about divine mercy. It wasn’t granted to the rich man. We can think of other parables where a person’s plea for mercy is granted by God. But here, in this parable, despite the rich man’s plea to Abraham to have pity on him, mercy was not granted by God. This is because his situation is irreversible. It’s too late. There are people who deny the existence of hell. If they do, we should point this parable out to them! But how can any situation be irreversible if God is infinitely merciful? Why is his situation irreparable? It’s not that God is not merciful – it’s that the rich man made no room for God’s mercy. That’s what happens when we don’t show mercy to our neighbor. We close ourselves to God’s mercy. After death, it’s too late. Remember the Beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” A corollary to that would be: “Woe to those that are not merciful, for they will not obtain mercy.” This parable is also highlighting that God is just as well as merciful. He wants to show mercy to the rich man, but the rich man closed his heart to that mercy by ignoring Lazarus.

This parable has a message similar to the famous parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25. What happens to those who do not give food to the hungry or drink to the thirsty, who do not clothe the naked or welcome the stranger, etc.? Jesus says to them: “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these ones, you did not do for me. And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” In contrast, Jesus says to those who show mercy, who feed the hungry, etc.: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

The rich man did not go to hell because he was rich. He went to hell because he lacked mercy and compassion. This is an important parable for us to contemplate because it has to do with eternity. How we treat the poor and suffering is a litmus test for the path to our salvation or to our condemnation. I think this parable is one that, as Saint John Paul II said when h