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Good Samaritans

Twenty-eighth Sunday in Ordinary time

Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,

Pope Francis published last Sunday his third encyclical on fraternity and social friendship entitled “Fratelli tutti”.

The presentation of this pontifical document was unusual, since for the first time in history a Muslim participated in the event.

As the Pope himself explains, it is a social encyclical addressed to all persons of good will, especially those who do not share our faith in Christ. It finds great inspiration in the meeting in Egypt between St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Malik-el-Kamil and also the meeting between the Pope and the Great Imam Ahmad-al-Tayyeb in February 2019 in Abu Dhabi.

He begins with a realistic and sharp commentary of the somber and fragmented situation that all of us, the entire human race finds itself in. “We are more alone than ever in an increasingly massified world that promotes individual interests and weakens the communitarian dimension of life… As a result, there is a growing loss of the sense of history, which leads to even further breakup… Words like democracy, freedom, justice or unity have been bent and shaped to serve as tools for domination, as meaningless tags that can be used to justify any action.”

“Some parts of our human family, it appears, can be readily sacrificed for the sake of others considered worthy of a carefree existence. Ultimately, “persons are no longer seen as a paramount value to be cared for and respected, especially when they are poor and disabled, ‘not yet useful’ – like the unborn, or ‘no longer needed’ – like the elderly. We have grown indifferent to all kinds of wastefulness, starting with the waste of food, which is deplorable in the extreme”.”

“The pain, uncertainty and fear, and the realization of our own limitations, brought on by the pandemic have only made it all the more urgent that we rethink our styles of life, our relationships, the organization of our societies and, above all, the meaning of our existence.”

“Digital relationships, which do not demand the slow and gradual cultivation of friendships, stable interaction or the building of a consensus that matures over time, have the appearance of sociability. Yet they do not really build community; instead, they tend to disguise and expand the very individualism that finds expression in xenophobia and in contempt for the vulnerable. “Digital connectivity is not enough to build bridges. It is not capable of uniting humanity.”

True wisdom demands an encounter with reality. Today, however, everything can be created, disguised and altered. A direct encounter even with the fringes of reality can thus prove intolerable.”

In the face of this situation, the Pope calls humankind to a renewal of hope. “Hope is bold; it can look beyond personal convenience, the petty securities and compensations which limit our horizon, and it can open us up to grand ideals that make life more beautiful and worthwhile”.”

To that end, he proposes a common reading of the parable of the Good Samaritan which has been the subject of this column for the last couple of weeks. Let us remember that Pope Benedict proposed the logic of the Good Samaritan when he reminded us that works of charity are essential in the life of the Church. Pope Francis himself approved a document entitled precisely Good Samaritan to denounce attacks against human life and propose alternative paths.

We know full well the narration in Luke 10. The Pope includes the Gospel text in his encyclical because it is especially addressed to those who do not share the faith of the Church. I invite you to engage in a thoughtful and renewed reading of it.

“The parable eloquently presents the basic decision we need to make in order to rebuild our wounded world. In the face of so much pain and suffering, our only course is to imitate the Good Samaritan. Any other decision would make us either one of the robbers or one of those who walked by without showing compassion for the sufferings of the man on the roadside. The parable shows us how a community can be rebuilt by men and women who identify with the vulnerability of others, who reject the creation of a society of exclusion, and act instead as neighbors, lifting up and rehabilitating the fallen for the sake of the common good. At the same time, it warns us about the attitude of those who think only of themselves and fail to shoulder the inevitable responsibilities of life as it is.”

The Pope offers a brief yet rich and enlightening commentary about each of the characters that appear in this parable of the Lord, beginning with the robbers.

“The parable begins with the robbers. Jesus chose to start when the robbery has already taken place, lest we dwell on the crime itself or the thieves who committed it. Yet we know them well. We have seen, descending on our world, the dark shadows of neglect and violence in the service of petty interests of power, gain and division. The real question is this: will we abandon the injured man and run to take refuge from the violence, or will we pursue the thieves? Will the wounded man end up being the justification for our irreconcilable divisions, our cruel indifference, our intestine conflicts?

The parable then asks us to take a closer look at the passers-by. The nervous indifference that makes them pass to the other side of the road – whether innocently or not, whether the result of disdain or mere distraction – makes the priest and the Levite a sad reflection of the growing gulf between ourselves and the world around us.

One detail about the passers-by does stand out: they were religious, devoted to the worship of God: a priest and a Levite. This detail should not be overlooked. It shows that belief in God and the worship of God are not enough to ensure that we are actually living in a way pleasing to God. A believer may be untrue to everything that his faith demands of him, and yet think he is close to God and better than others…

“Robbers” usually find secret allies in those who “pass by and look the other way”. There is a certain interplay between those who manipulate and cheat society, and those who, while claiming to be detached and impartial critics, live off that system and its benefits. There is a sad hypocrisy when the impunity of crime, the use of institutions for personal or corporate gain, and other evils apparently impossible to eradicate, are accompanied by a relentless criticism of everything, a constant sowing of suspicion that results in distrust and confusion.

Let us turn at last to the injured man. There are times when we feel like him, badly hurt and left on side of the road. We can also feel helpless because our institutions are neglected and lack resources, or simply serve the interests of a few, without and within. Indeed, “globalized society often has an elegant way of shifting its gaze. Under the guise of being politically correct or ideologically fashionable, we look at those who suffer without touching them. We televise live pictures of them, even speaking about them with euphemisms and with apparent tolerance”.”

“Let us care for the needs of every man and woman, young and old, with the same fraternal spirit of care and closeness that marked the Good Samaritan.”

“Jesus asks us to be present to those in need of help, regardless of whether or not they belong to our social group. In this case, the Samaritan became a neighbor to the wounded Judean. By approaching and making himself present, he crossed all cultural and historical barriers. Jesus concludes the parable by saying: “Go and do likewise” (Lk 10:37). In other words, he challenges us to put aside all differences and, in the face of suffering, to draw near to others with no questions asked. I should no longer say that I have neighbors to help, but that I must myself be a neighbor to others.”

Fr. Roberto M. Cid