Neighborliness and Charity's Testing Ground

Commenting once on the Parable of the Good Samaritan which forms the heart of today’s Gospel, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had this to say: “The first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’”

I might go one step further to add another version of the Good Samaritan’s question, ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ Put another way, by the omission of charity, not only does the other’s very real need go unmet—but still further, our need to love and go out of ourselves in solidarity remains unmet. We dehumanize ourselves in the act of not treating the other as we would want them to treat us. The more we ‘harden our heart’ and complacently (even if secretly) say, ‘that’s not my problem’ the less we resemble the one who made us in His image and likeness. In this way we live susceptible to divine judgment. (If this seems an extreme thing to say, see Matthew 25—it seems that Christ said this too).

As a bold quote ascribed to St. Teresa of Calcutta suggests, “If we have no peace it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other”. Yes, it is no doubt inconvenient and messy to have to act as our brother’s keeper, not to mention as a stranger’s keeper. It is costly to get involved rather than give a wide berth around the misery or misfortune of another. Our world is increasingly contorting itself to avoid ‘getting involved’—afraid of how we might lose ourselves in the very act by which we stand to ‘find ourselves’ and the meaning of our life.

More than a social gospel alone, the essence of the Parable of the Good Samaritan reminds us that it is impossible to inherit eternal life without the grace of Divine Charity which alone will allow us to surpass the limitations of our love. It reminds us that apart from the self-emptying example of Christ, our hearts remain puny, self-protecting and insulated. Let us remember that we have been the one lying beaten and broken and it is Christ in His mercy who has stooped down to us in our need; it is He who has made provision for our convalescence and healing in the Inn of the Church and through the grace of the Sacraments. May we imitate Him this week in some concrete and direct—even if simple—way. All praise to Christ!

Here is a look at the saints commemorated in the coming week, all of whom embody in distinct ways love for their neighbor.

13 July - St Henry, Emperor

Born about 973; died on this day in 1024. Duke of Bavaria and then Holy Roman Emperor, the husband of Saint Kunigunde, both of whom are buried in the cathedral he built at Bamberg (Germany). Noted for combining his temporal leadership with piety and for supporting reform within the Church.

14 July - St Camillus de Lellis, Priest

Born at Bucchianico (Italy) in 1550; died at Rome on this day in 1614. A soldier and a gambler when he experienced conversion. Eventually ordained a priest after laying the foundations for the Servants of the Sick (Camillians), a religious community devoted to the care of the sick. Afflicted with lifelong ulcers. Noted for his special love for and service of the sick.

15 July - St Bonaventure, Bishop, Religious, Doctor of the Church

Born at Bagnoregio (Italy) about 1218; died at Lyons (France) on this day in 1274. He joined the Franciscans when studying in Paris and eventually became minister general of the order. Later appointed cardinal-bishop of Albano and died assisting Pope Gregory X during the Council of Lyons. Known as the “Seraphic Doctor.” Honored as a teacher, for his extensive biblical and mystical writings, and for his holiness, gentleness, and compassion.

16 July - Our Lady of Mount Carmel

The cult of Mary under this title originated in the fourteenth century and came to be observed throughout the West during the eighteenth century. Commemorates the Virgin Mary as associated with Mount Carmel (Israel), site of the prophet Elijah’s altar to the one true God and of the twelfth century eremitical forerunners of the Carmelites. Mary is celebrated on this day as a model of reflection, solitude, and prayer. (Special feast day greetings to our Our Lady of Mt. Carmel neighbors).

20 July - St Apollonaris, Bishop, Martyr

Probably first century. Bishop of Ravenna (Italy) where a church bears his name. A fifth-century sermon identifies him as a martyr. Honored as a link to the Apostolic age.

21 July - St Lawrence of Brindisi, Priest, Doctor of the Church

Born at Brindisi (Italy) in 1559; died at Lisbon (Portugal) on this day in 1619. A presbyter in the Capuchin order and later its minister general. A noted biblical scholar and linguist, charged with preaching to Lutherans. He organized Christian princes against the incursions of the Ottomans. Noted for his zealous teaching and promotion of the Catholic reform that followed the Council of Trent.

With all these examples of holiness in different states of life and in different contexts, the call upon our lives to live charity cannot be avoided. It begins by remembering the precious call to love the one who is right in front of us. As it was for the saints, so for us: charity begins at home; neighborliness is the testing ground of charity!

 Go and do likewise!

Fr. Howe


PS, I am privileged to be able to go on pilgrimage to Poland this coming week. I’ll be gone about ten days, staying in Krakow and following in the footsteps of Pope St. John Paul the Second and some of the other great saints of the Polish tradition. Know of my prayers for all of you along the way! You might remember last October when a young American couple living in Poland brought a first class relic of St. John Paul II for us to keep at Holy Cross. I will be assisting with one of their new programs—a Young Family Pilgrimage. There will also be opportunities for me to visit a number of parishioners and friends from the Polish Community who spend time in Poland during the summer. Even our beloved Dolina dancers will be participating in a significant folk dance festival while I am abroad. I look forward to having some pictures and stories to share upon my return. I also look forward to learning new phrases and searching for the best Lody (Polish for ice cream)!