My dear friends in our Lord: Glory to Jesus Christ!
If we are to keep our balance in this admittedly unbalanced world, then we should strive every day to cultivate heart, and mind, and spirit after the pattern presented to us by our Lord through His Church.
Central in this is cultivating a mind – and a mindset – formed after the pattern of the fathers of the Church, those who transmitted to us the living word of Him Who is the Word, our Lord Jesus Christ. For the fathers are examples of how one receives the good news of the Gospel, how one passes on this good news of the Gospel, and – above all – how one lives the good news of the Gospel.
If we are to be living sons and daughters of the Church, the immaculate bride of Christ, then we too must have the mindset of the fathers. This is central to keeping our balance in this world.
Even among the fathers, there is a balance to be found. In some things, of course, there is unanimous assent in regard to those things which are recorded in sacred Scripture. But in many other occasions, there is a diversity of opinion regarding certain things which are found in Scripture. But even in such situations, when you do acquire the patristic mindset, you will see that beyond the initial or superficial diversity of opinion, there is an underlying agreement.
We have such a passage from sacred Scripture in the Liturgy today. For we hear in the Holy Gospel our Lord speaking of Lazarus and the Rich Man. It’s a fairly well-known passage, very evocative. We have the miserly rich man, who always dressed in fine clothing and feasted sumptuously; and then we have the poor beggar Lazarus, who sat at the gates of the rich man, receiving mercy only from the dogs who would lick his sores, giving him a little comfort.
In time, both the rich man and Lazarus died. Lazarus in soul is taken to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man in soul is cast into hades.
And as the Gospel tells us: [The rich man] lifting up his eyes when he was in torments, he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom: and he cried, and said: Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, to cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame. And Abraham said to him: Son, remember that thou didst receive good things in thy lifetime, and likewise Lazarus evil things, but now he is comforted; and thou art tormented. And besides all this, between us and you, there is fixed a great chaos: so that they who would pass from hence to you, cannot, nor from thence come hither. And [the rich man] said: Then, father, I beseech thee, that thou wouldst send [Lazarus] to my father’s house, for I have five brethren, that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torments. And Abraham said to him: They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. But he said: No, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead, they will do penance. And [Abraham] said to [the rich man]: If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they believe, if one rise again from the dead.
This passage from the Gospel according to Saint Luke is rich, very rich in lessons for us. It is a theological and moral course in microcosm. In it we see the immortality of the soul, both of the good and the wicked. We see that what we do in this life is rewarded – or punished – in the next. We see the justice of the judgment, and that evil sustained in this life is comforted in the next. We see that souls, even after the separation from the body, retain consciousness of themselves and of others, and of their conditions. They even retain awareness of and solicitude for those who remain in this life, and they have a concern for their welfare.
And this is only a very cursory listing of the lessons which we learn from what our Lord says. There are countless others.
And it is precisely here that we can genuinely use and benefit from having a patristic mindset. For there is one thing about this passage that the fathers don’t agree on… And that is whether there actually was, historically speaking, a certain rich man and a beggar named Lazarus, or whether this is another in the anthology of the great parables related by our Lord, and they are literary characters after the fashion of the sower who went out to sow his seed, or the king who made a nuptual banquet.
There is a genuine diversity of opinion regarding this matter; regarding the historicity of Lazarus, and the rich man. What there is complete agreement on, though, is that what our Lord said was true.
It is a sick disease of the mind to think that simply because something is a parable, or is poetic, or is allegorical… that it is there not true.
To the contrary, parable, allegory, poetry… sometimes these can point to greater truths than we could possibly begin to experience in history.
There are even statements which are made without a single word being uttered, and yet which contain within themselves all manner of sublime and surpassing truth. The works of mercy are like that. Feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, burying the dead… Receiving the Sacraments can be like that.
And that is the challenge of acquiring the patristic mindset, which is nothing more or less than the Christian mindset. To see the truth, to hold fast to it, not to become unbalanced in a world which thrives on chaos, and on false dichotomy. But to hear Abraham. To hear Moses. To hear the Prophets. And, above all, to hear Him Who did rise again from the dead, for He is Himself the Word of Life.