At both seminaries I attended (Saint John’s college seminary in Los Angeles & Mundelein Seminary in Mundelein, Illinois, for the inquiring mind), there was in place a process for seminarians to participate in formation. In addition to our spiritual directors, formation directors, priests, nuns & teachers giving input & feedback to our development, every seminarian was charged with also fraternal support & correction.
The idea isn’t original to seminary but pulls from Matthew 18, where Jesus charges us to go to our brother if he is sinning, to bring another person if he won’t listen, to bring in the Church if he is obstinate and to even shun him if he still refuses to change.
This was a largely good thing in seminary. But as you can imagine, it was not always pleasant, and there was no small amount of trepidation when a brother seminarian would come into my room, close the door, sit down and say ‘Jacob, we need to talk’. Oh boy.
I can remember three times this happened in my time in seminary, from three different classmates. And although I didn’t much enjoy being told my faults, I am even now grateful for their willingness to come to me in charity and point out problems in a desire to help me be a better man. Those three men, by the by, are among my closest friends to this day.
This seems relevant to today’s Gospel as we see the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus. Oftentimes when we read this, we look at it through the eyes of the rich man, with the reflection on how we could very well be falling into the same sin as he – to the end of being eternally separated from God.
We should fear this! This is worth reflecting on, and often.
But what if the roles were reversed? How would it be to on the side of angels, standing next to Abraham looking across that chasm into hell? What would be like to look and begin to recognize the faces there – acquaintances, friends, family members? How awful it would be to see them there and realize that we had failed them, because we had not spoken truths they needed to hear while we were here on earth?!
There is a temptation, often played out in church – one that I don’t think is particular to Catholics but more to Christians in general. It’ll start with a conversation or a phone call. ‘Father, I want you to know about a problem with parishioner X’. The faults, errors or wrongs are laid out… often in great detail! When the litany of complaints concludes, the first question the pastor asks – ‘Have you talked to them?’. ‘Oh no Father, I was hoping you could do that.’
….’well, tell me who this is [assuming a phone call]‘ ‘Father, I don’t want to say.’
This is a problem.
Did you notice the last line of the Gospel today, by Abraham? ‘If they will not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone should rise from the dead.’
How easy it is to think of ‘prophets’ as ‘someone else’. Maybe its Moses or the Old Testament figures, or Jesus or, well however. As long as it isn’t me!
The rub is that we all are called to be prophets. At baptism, when we were joined to the Body of Christ, we received His threefold ministry of priest, prophet and king. We have an undeniable responsibility to that service.
There’s no denying that this is often uncomfortable. Who wants to raise the awkward or hot-button issues that are often avoided? And how do we do that anyway?
If we’re looking for examples, we don’t have further to look than God’s own example. In fact, today’s feast day – the feast of the archangels (Michael, Gabriel & Raphael) – is a wondrous illustration of God’s reaching out to us! The Lord’s every message has been an act of loving correction & guidance – and an invitation to friendship.
As we celebrate Mass – the ultimate in God’s invitation to conversion & friendship – may we ask God to make us prophets. Prophets who speak the truth in charity to to everyone: our friends, family, even strangers! May we extend that same call we have received, that there might be no one who doesn’t know the true joy of being God’s friend…. even as they – and we – are called to change to better live that out.