Sunday, July 15, 2007

Imitating the Good Samaritan

(Fifteenth Sunday of the Year (C): This homily was given on July 15, 2007 at St. Pius X Church, Westerly, R.I., by Fr. Raymond Suriani. Read Luke 10: 25-37.)

[For the audio version of this homily, click here: Fifteenth Sunday 2007]

Every once in awhile, someone will come into the reconciliation room on a Saturday afternoon, confess their sins, and receive absolution. But before they leave, they will say something like this: “Fr. Ray, I’ve brought a friend of mine with me today. He hasn’t been to confession in 25 or 30 years, and he’s really nervous. He’ll probably need some help, especially with the Act of Contrition. I wanted you to know all this, because he’s coming in next!”

That’s a Good Samaritan in action.

I dare say, when most people hear this parable from Luke 10—this story of the man who was robbed and beaten on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho—they think of physical acts of charity only. They think, in other words, of what the Church would call the corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, visiting those in prison, burying the dead.

They think that engaging in activities like these is what it means to be a “Good Samaritan”. And, in part, they’re right. After all, the Samaritan in this story performs several physical acts of charity for someone he doesn’t even know—someone who was a natural enemy (remember, Jews and Samaritans typically did not get along with each other).

But it would be a big mistake to see this parable only in physical terms; that type of perspective would be much too restrictive!

You see, being a good Samaritan also requires a concern for the spiritual needs of other human beings—a concern that’s actively expressed in the so-called “spiritual works of mercy”: instructing the ignorant, counseling the doubtful, admonishing sinners, bearing wrongs patiently, forgiving offenses willingly, comforting the afflicted, and praying for the living and the dead.

If you bring someone to confession on a Saturday afternoon—a friend who’s been away from church for 25 or 30 years—you are being a Good Samaritan to that individual.

If you bring someone to an AA meeting or to the meeting of another 12-step group, you’re being a Good Samaritan.

If you bring someone to Jesus in prayer every day, you are (believe it or not) being a Good Samaritan to that person. They may never know it, but it’s true nonetheless.

If you challenge a friend who’s committing a serious sin (or who’s contemplating committing a serious sin), you are being a Good Samaritan to that person. They may not think of you as “good”—in fact they may call you every uncharitable name in the book—but that doesn’t matter. Admonishing sinners in a loving way is one of the spiritual works of mercy.

If you invite a friend to a mission or to a retreat—hoping that they will have a conversion or experience a deepening of their faith—you are being a Good Samaritan to that friend. On that note, as most of you know, many of our teenagers are at Steubenville East this weekend. When we’re in the process of preparing for that trip each year, I’ll ask individual teens in the parish, “Are you coming with us?” Every once in awhile one of them will respond by saying, “No, Fr. Ray, I’m not coming this year. It was a really good experience for me, but I’ve already been a couple of times.”

If you’re a teenager, I warn you: that’s the wrong response to give me! There are, of course, legitimate reasons why you might not be able to attend the conference, but that’s not one of them! I say it’s the wrong response because it tells me that you think your faith is about you and God, period! But it’s not! Christianity is about you, God—and others! So if you have a good experience on an annual youth retreat like Steubenville East, you should want your friends to have the very same experience, if you really care about them! In the spirit of the Good Samaritan, you should ask them to come along with you in subsequent years. First and foremost, you should go multiple times for their sakes, not for yours. When I was in high school I went on a Search retreat at the beginning of my senior year, and it had a big impact on me. So I tried to get my friends to go on other Searches afterward. Some did, and some didn’t. But at least I tried.

The last words in this Gospel story are spoken not only to the scholar of the Law who said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”, they’re also spoken to each and every one of us: “Go and do likewise”—“Go, in other words, and imitate the Good Samaritan.”

May Almighty God help us to do that—physically AND spiritually!