Today’s Gospel continues last Sunday’s theme of the right use of material goods, but takes it a step further: through the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, it personalizes the obligations that we have to one another – and warns us of the eternal consequences if we don’t act.
For the rich man didn’t deliberately decide to harm Lazarus; rather, his sin was more subtle. He simply neglected to come to his aid, although it was well within his ability to do so. His inaction thus fits the definition of sin as a “failure in genuine love for God and neighbor” (Catechism paragraph 1849):
How can we not recognize Lazarus, the hungry beggar in the parable, in the multitude of human beings without bread, a roof or a place to stay (2463)?
The drama of hunger in the world calls Christians who pray sincerely [‘Give us this day our daily bread’ in the Our Father] to exercise responsibility toward their brethren, both in their personal behavior and in their solidarity with the human family. This petition of the Lord’s Prayer cannot be isolated from the parables of the poor man Lazarus and of the Last Judgment (2831).
This parable speaks of a “final destiny of the soul – a destiny which can be different for some and for others,” and reiterates that “death puts an end to human life as the time open to either accepting or rejecting the divine grace” (1021).
Question for reflection: Who is the “Lazarus” in my own life, and how might I help?
The human person was made to live in society: by living in a communion of persons – in the family, voluntary associations, political units – we seek to fulfill our vocation, first and foremost spiritually, as well as materially and culturally.
All societies must be centered upon the intrinsic dignity of the human person, who is created in God’s image and called to eternal life.
Hence we reject collectivism that exalts the state over persons and communities; instead, we uphold the principle of subsidiarity, which respects the role of local spheres of activity.
The renewal of society begins with our personal, interior conversion; as our love for our neighbor grows, we see all of our fellow human beings as neighbors, and we strive to act justly not only in our lives, but also work for justice in society.
We have the responsibility to participate in society, chiefly by carrying out our particular duties to our families and our workplaces.
In addition, we are called to make our voices heard in the public square, in support of the common good and in a spirit of solidarity, striving for a more equitable distribution of goods.
The common good is the entirety of social conditions that help people to flourish, including such inalienable human rights as freedom of religion; the meeting of basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, medical care, education, and employment; and the peace and security that make it possible to live in freedom.
Those in authority have a special responsibility to pursue the common good; but authority loses moral legitimacy if it employs immoral methods, deprives people of their human rights, or passes laws that are contrary to justice.
Live Your Faith
In our hyper-partisan political culture, it becomes all too easy for us to view Catholic social teaching through the prism of an ideology. Depending upon our own political persuasion, we can find ourselves cheering elements of Church teaching that bolster our side of the aisle, while downplaying other aspects that are less convenient.
But such a tendency gets things precisely backward. We are not to judge Church teaching according to our political platforms, or chop it to fit the procrustean bed of ideology. On the contrary, we must seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Our faith, not our political affiliation, should be our primary reference point.
The depth and breadth of Catholic social teaching transcend the bounds of political parties, and go straight to the Gospel: we love God by loving our neighbor.
Sometimes it is clear how our love for neighbor should be expressed in public policy, such as defending the right to life for the unborn. For many other issues, however, we can legitimately debate which policies best serve the common good. Yet our freedom to make such “prudential judgments” does not give us license to ignore or brush aside their moral implications.
We must always recognize that fundamental moral principles are at stake, and seek to apply them as best we can in the public square.