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The Great Chasm

Dear Parishioners,

Before speaking of the “great chasm” that divides the saved from the punished after death, this weekend’s Gospel hints at two other chasms. There is a “great chasm” between the rich man who wears fine clothes and eats “sumptuously each day” and the poor man, Lazarus, whose body is covered not with rich clothes but festering sores and who longs to eat “the scraps that fell from the rich man’s table.” The other “great chasm” is between sinners and those who are righteous. Lazarus is a supporting character in this weekend’s Gospel who reveals the rich man’s sinfulness.

The rich man in the Gospel can neither see nor hear. He does not see Lazarus in need at his door. He does not listen to Moses and the prophets who guide him in right ways. The rich man is not in “the netherworld, where he was in torment” simply because of the good he received during his lifetime, but because his self-contained, self-satisfied lifestyle was not faithful to the teaching and practice of the Mosaic covenant. This is the rich man’s sinfulness. He was so wrapped up in himself and his riches that he failed to pay attention to just relationships among those who are bound together in covenant with God.

We who live today have even a further revelation beyond Moses and the prophets … we are to hear and to put into practice the truth of the Gospel affirmed by Jesus who rose from the dead. By so doing, we choose now on which side of the chasm we will be on in the next life. The chasm which separated the rich man and Lazarus after death is already present while they are living. This chasm – much more than the breach between rich and poor – is a gulf of uncaring. During his earthly life, the rich man could have chosen to act differently and close the chasm. This weekend’s Gospel is a call to us … NOW is the time to act. Once we enter the next life, the chasm and the results of our choices, will remain forever.

The Gospel uses the metaphor “great chasm” and paints a clear picture of what happens on each side … rich / poor … dined sumptuously / ate scraps … netherworld / bosom of Abraham … received good / received bad … torment / comforted … place of torment / rise from the dead. Although the wealth and comfort of this life are attractive, in the face of eternity they are too fleeting to choose. What really counts is living faithfully now so we are on the right side of the chasm in eternity!

Although the “great chasm” metaphor in the Gospel leads us to compare the two possibilities of the afterlife (heaven or hell), the metaphor also applies to this life and how we are living today, for how we are living now is how we will be living for all eternity. The present moment is amplified in eternity. Ultimately, how we live both now and in eternity is our choice. God makes good (or bad) on our choice! What guides us in this choice is the Gospel. Jesus made with us a new covenant, the heart of which is love of God and of each other.

The problem is not that we do not know how to live our lives. The problem is, we tend to talk about the poor and those in need of our care globally and in abstract terms. In this weekend’s Gospel, the poor and needy one is presented as an individual with a name, lying on a nearby doorstep. Besides Moses and the prophets, we also have Jesus to teach us. We, too, only need to listen. Jesus teaches us how to see those in need around us and to reach out in concern.

May Saint Michael the Archangel defend, guide, protect, and intercede for us always!

Fr. Larry

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