Am I my brother's keeper?

Posted by James Hahn on


Today's Gospel is one of those that really gets under my skin and makes me squirm. Here we have a man who is condemned to hell not for what he did but for what he failed to do. Like those who are given to eternal punishment in the 25th chapter of Matthew for not seeing Christ in the least of their brothers, this rich man is condemned for looking past his brother on his own doorstep.

Too often I think that as long as I am free from mortal sin I am in good shape spiritually. This isn't incorrect but in my mind too often I think of mortal sins as sins of commission not sins of omission. Yet here, in the words of Our Lord in Luke and in Matthew, I see that many will perish in the eternal fire for their sins of omission, for what they failed to do.

Why is this rich man's sin of omission so serious? In order for a sin to be deadly or mortal or to kill the life of God in our souls it must first deal with grave matter. Here we are dealing with the life of another person. If I ask, "am I my brother's keeper" I must remember who spoke those words in the beginning.

The second requirement for a sin to be mortal is that there must be full knowledge that it is wrong. The rich man knew. Notice that he doesn't argue that he didn't know. He admits that he had full knowledge but chose to ignore it by saying that his brothers are doing the same thing. The rich man had full knowledge that his disregard for Lazarus was wrong and went against everything he had heard from Moses and the prophets.

The third requirement for a sin to be mortal is deliberate consent. In other words, he knew this omission, this failure to help Lazarus was a serious matter and he failed to fulfill his duty anyway.

Today's Gospel is a firm reminder that we are responsible for others.  It's a reminder that sins of omission are just as spiritually deadly as sins of commission.  Perhaps they are even more so since we tend to look past these sins.  It's not someone else's job to take care of the hungry. It's not some faceless organization's job to do what Christ has commanded me to do. Commanded me to do!  That is another thing to think about.  Jesus did not command me to write a check, drop a few bucks in a basket, or offer an online gift.  These are all great things but I truly believe we need to go deeper.

Jesus wanted the rich man to give Lazarus food not write a check to the homeless shelter.  He wanted him to take food from his table and share it with Lazarus, not send Lazarus down the road to a government assistance office.  Even if Lazarus was dirty, smelly, and full of sores, he is still made in the image and likeness of God and worthy of our love and respect.  As Pope Benedict XVI said, it is, for those of us who have so much, a matter of justice first before it is a matter of charity. I truly am my brother's keeper.

"It was not poverty that led Lazarus to heaven, but humility; nor was it wealth that prevented the rich man from attaining eternal rest but rather his egoism and his infidelity." - Saint Gregory the Great

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How to get better at prayer.
  1. Set a prayer appointment - Set a time on your calendar each day to meet and speak with God.
  2. Slowly increase your prayer time. - Don't jump in with an hour right from the get-go.  Build up your "tolerance" so to speak.
  3. Commit - to praying and slowly increasing your prayer time for 30 days.  Mark off the days on your calendar.  If you miss a day, jump right back in, don't give up.
  4. Pray - praying is talking to God, it's spending time with your attention focused on Him.  I enjoy spending time with my children regardless of their level of development.  God is the same way.  Spend time praying as best you can.  Use formal prayers if you want or simply speak in conversation.  Don't forget to listen
  5. Journal - Our newly revised 4 Simple Steps to Better Scripture Meditations: Guide, Workbook, and Journal walks you through 4 easy steps that will help you go deeper in your prayer life.  It includes 31 days of workbook and journal pages too!
  6. Read other good books about how to pray better - Prayer PrimerDeep Conversion, Deep PrayerTime for GodThe Spiritual Life: A Comprehensive Guide to Catholics Seeking Salvation.
* Contains affiliate links.  No, that doesn't mean that the kids should leave the room.  Rather, it means that if you click on a link, and if you purchase something, I may get some financial remuneration for that click and buy.  All that means is that my kids will finally get to eat, just kidding but I may get something, just so you know...

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