The seminary, where new priests are trained, is intended to be a very grueling period of formation. It’s a program that everyone goes through, but as you go through you are assigned to different formators who are responsible to take that program and craft it directly to you. It is calculated and thoroughly evaluated. The seminary is a is a 6 – 8 year basic training course which aims to take men from all walks of life and form them so they will be prepared to minister in a parish. I don’t know about Deacon Chris, but I know for myself and many others, there comes a moment in your time in the seminary that either solidifies a man’s call to the priesthood or help’s him to realize that he is not called to the priesthood. That moment for me didn’t come until the beginning of my 7th year in the seminary which is already a stressful year because at the end of the year comes the point of no return, deacon ordination, where a seminarian promises celibacy and obedience to the bishop for the rest of his life. It is at the end of the 7 year or 5 year mark, depending on your path in the seminary, that you make the definitive choice to be a priest. Going into that year I knew it was going to be a tough year because in addition to my regular studies, I had just come off a parish assignment where I was at the Cathedral which is a prestigious job but it also entails allot of work. Tradition had, that whoever had that job before would get an easy job the next year as a thank you for doing all the hard work. To get out of that job I got myself elected president of the student body that did not always see eye to eye with the administration and I was in a race to finish my master’s thesis because my advisor was experiencing the effects of dementia. Knowing that the seminary personally tailors everyone’s formation I was confident that I would be assigned an easy pastoral assignment. Imagine my surprise when I learned in the first week that the seminar that I was going to teach in a high school and be the first seminarian ever assigned to serve on Sundays at an inner city, predominantly African American parish.
I remember reading that letter thinking to myself, I’m trapped. I know I’m called to be a priest, but I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the year. I wasn’t sure how I was going to minister in a parish with a drug house across the street, or how to pray in a Church with a very different liturgical style. As I listened to myself think these things, I realized that the problem had nothing to do with what the seminary was doing, the problem was actually with me. I realized that for some reason I had been searching for comfort. I had become like the rich man in today’s Gospel, who was so concerned about himself, that I created a chasm between myself and those God was calling me to serve.
That became a very formative year for me. It became a year of internal battling between my desire for complacency versus the call to self-sacrifice and it brought life back into perspective. As I worshiped and served with those great people in north city, I discovered that what I thought was going to be the most taxing part of my week turned out to be the most refreshing moment and I quickly realized that for whatever reason I had put barriers there that didn’t need to be there.
I think each and every one of us has our own stories like this. We all have situations in our lives where we start to look inwardly on ourselves, we feel sorry for ourselves, we look for comfort, but the world is making it a challenge for me and whatever that challenge is we put a wall between it to try and keep us from actually being where God is calling us to be. You see today’s Gospel has a very simple reminder for each and every one of us. Today’s readings remind us that what we do to the least of our brothers and sisters we do to God.
Did you notice in the Gospel, that the rich man is not condemned because he is wealthy? At no point does Jesus say “the problem with you is that you have money.” No he is condemned because he did not show charity to Lazarus. While the rich man did not cause Lazarus to be poor, he ignored him and was punished not for what he did, but for what he failed to do. The rich man was self-satisfied, smug, and complacent and being so self-absorbed, he was unconcerned about others, even unaware of the beggar at his front gate. Perhaps if the rich man had reached out and done something small to care for Lazarus, not only would Lazarus’ life changed, but perhaps the rich man would have been shaken from his self-centeredness and saved from eternal damnation.
Today’s parable is an invitation to each and every one of us to show solidarity and not selfishness. So often we become so self-absorbed that we build false boundaries between ourselves and others, but today’s Gospel challenges us to step over the abyss and see others for who they are. While there is always the temptation to fall into complacency, today’s Gospel reminds us that our God is truly a demanding God because He is a lover and love is demanding. We must take up that good fight St. Paul talks about in today’s second reading, every day not only because our souls are at stake, but because we are put here on earth to give ourselves for others. In dying on the cross Christ offered Himself for every one of us. Do you realize how much He gave for you? There is only one response to that sacrifice and that is to spend ourselves for Christ. Friends, I think the challenge of today’s gospel is simple. I think it challenges us to ask ourselves where do I fail to reach out to those in need because of my own protectiveness of my time, money or fears and it compels us to ask each day if we can do just one more thing for someone else because in giving, we will receive far more in return.