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||Susan M. Recinella, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed|
Fourth in a series of six articles
Apathy in the Face of Relievable Human Suffering
By: Dale Recinella
The question is posed frequently after my death penalty talks: “Are you saying those guys shouldn’t be punished?”
That is a fascinating question that reveals an erroneous logic.
The faulty underlying premise is that one who deserves punishment thereby deserves whatever happens to him, even if it is inhumane and unnecessary, like capital punishment. This premise yields the defective
corollary that if other people object to excessive punishment or unnecessary suffering, they must be against justice, against crime victims, even that they must want criminals to be let off scot-free.
Although none of that is true,
I have confronted this defective formula a thousand times. Consequently, it is time to face head-on the issues of justice, punishment and retribution. As a pushing off point, the following is a short parable
composed upon the basis of Jesus’ parable of Dives and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 and God’s description of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25:31-46, especially verses 36, 39, 43 and 44.
There was an upper-middleclass Floridian named Dives who dressed in fine suits and had air-conditioning in his home, his car and his office.
In the same state lived a poor man named Lazarus, a death row inmate who was maligned and despised because of his despicable condition. Lazarus longed for relief from Florida’s intense summer heat and humidity
on death row, longed for just a small amount of the air-conditioning enjoyed by Dives.
The market-based ethics currently popular in our society might not deem the comfortable Dives of Scripture and the clueless goats of Jesus’
Last Judgment worthy of hellfire. Jesus disagrees.
Lazarus described to the courts and the press how he had filed prison grievances about the summer heat and humidity for almost ten years with no relief.
He described standing in his toilet and lying naked on the floor on dampened sheets in futile attempts to cool his body. Lazarus described dizziness, disorientation, confusion, palpitations, nausea, vomiting, blood
pressure irregularities, breathing difficulties, heat and stress-induced sleep disorders, even passing out and splitting his head open against the metal sink in his cell.
Dives failed to respond to the plight of Lazarus.
It came to pass that Lazarus died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The upper-middleclass Floridian Dives also died and was buried.
In Hades, where Dives was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. Dives 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.”
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. Besides, 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.”
Dives said, "Then, Father Abraham, I beg you to send Lazarus to my fellow upper-middleclass Floridians that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.”
Abraham replied, "They have Jesus and Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.”
Dives said, "No, Father Abraham; but if Lazarus goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
Abraham said to him, "If they do not listen to Jesus and Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if Lazarus rises from the dead.”
Revealed in Jesus’ parable about Dives and Lazarus and His description of the Last Judgment is a foundational moral principle: Apathy in the
face of relievable human suffering is radical evil. That’s where we start.
First published:The Florida Catholic,June 24, 2004
© 2004 Dale S. Recinella & The Florida Catholic.
Used with permission. All rights reserved.
No further reproduction or republication without prior written permission.
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Dale S. Recinella
, Catholic Lay Chaplain, Florida Death Row and Solitary Confinement
Susan M. Recinella
, Clinical Psychologist for mentally ill adults, and
Catholic Lay Minister to Families of the Executed