Of Scapulars and Sinners

By Ken Asel

A Reading from the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31 

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24 He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ 27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — 28 for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”


The story of Lazarus and the rich man is both straightforward and deeply troubling.

I remember an early elementary parochial school experience, when I was introduced to the Scapular of Our Lady. The most common scapular is a brown piece of cloth worn around the neck of devotees. Its origin seems to date back to the Middle Ages as a gift of the Blessed Mother to a Carmelite friar, St. Simon Stock. The symbol was deemed to be a sign of protection from our Lady and carried with it special promises to the wearer, most prominently entry into heaven at death as long as the scapular was worn faithfully.

Would my scapular have guaranteed my or any devotees’ entrance at death into heaven? I was convinced that was the case well into my teens. As I reflect upon these two men standing before Father Abraham to account for their faithfulness to the Covenant of God, to this day, I wonder about the scapular, and about the rich man’s fate.

If the scapular is Christ’s promise of lasting love for humankind conveyed by his Mother, then this devotion might be well worth meditating on further. The path to holiness can indeed be unanticipated, filled with holy generosity. Might it even be the case, as we see Mary conveying God’s love to the world, that we also see Abraham reaching out his hand, welcoming not only Lazarus but the rich man as well, a repentant sinner in anguish seeking forgiveness?

This story of Jesus is still mysterious and troubling; a reminder, a comfort, and a warning. God’s generosity goes beyond all bounds of our understanding. It certainly went beyond the rich man’s. Like the scapular was to me, what is your sign, your provision for the journey into understanding the generosity of God, to becoming more responsive to his great undertaking of reconciliation?

(The Reverend) J. Kenneth Asel, D.Min. is a retired priest from the Diocese of Wyoming. Devvie & he have been married 30 years and reside in the Texas Hill Country.

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