12th Sunday after Pentecost
One of the best known passages of Holy Writ is given to us today. When we read the the parable of the Good Samaritan, we instinctively think of a kind person who is always ready to stop and help, even if there is nothing in it for him. The Samaritan of the parable was the less likely of all to do so and it reminds us that there is none of those in need should be strangers to us. Whoever and wherever they may be, our heart and our attention should be prompt to reach out and help according to our means.
The parable, however, has a deeper meaning, one which the Fathers of the Church were quick to point out. The Good Samaritan is none other than Our Lord Himself, who stoops down to fallen humanity in order to bring it the soul-saving remedies of our holy religion. Indeed, this poor man who was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, that is to say, from God’s people to the pagan world, is humanity itself which, leaving behind God’s commandments fell among robbers, that is to say, among devils who despoiled him of the preternatural gifts he had received from God – namely immortality, preservation from concupiscence and ignorance –, and left him half-dead, that is to say, his body still alive, but his soul dead, deprived of the life of grace, and unable to enter eternal life.
The priest and the levite both symbolise the Old Covenant and the fact that they both see the poor man but pass by, indicates, on the one hand, their total incapacity to help – for the Old Covenant, as St Paul makes it clear, could not confer grace, it could only point to it and prepare for it – and on the other, the carelessness of the Jewish priesthood at the time, which had no real concern for the people, but rather sought only to provide for itself.
The Good Samaritan, God Himself in the flesh, sees the poor man, and is moved to pity. He stops, cares for the wounded man, pours oil and wine into his wounds – symbols of the sacraments of Penance and Eucharist –, and takes him to the inn, that is to say, to the Holy Church, where he entrusts him to the innkeeper, that is to say, to the priests of the New Covenant, who have in their hands the very remedies provided for by the Saviour, that is, the unfailing source of grace in the sacraments, until His return, that is to say, until the end of time, when He will return with power and majesty, and will demand an account of his priests for the souls entrusted to them. The two pieces of silver given to the innkeeper are the two great commandments of love of God and love of neighbour.
This parable is valid for all periods of the Church, in which we see humanity continually falling prey to its enemies. In our age in particular, the plight of the world reminds us of the man of today’s Gospel. Coming from Jerusalem, that is to say, the Church, where he had everything in terms of gifts of God, treasures of light and grace and every spiritual support, modern man has fallen prey to the deepest ignorance and is immersed in the darkest vices.
It began when the so-called Reformers substituted the free examen of Holy Scripture to humble and enlightened obedience to the infallible guidance of the Church. It continued with the so-called Enlightenment, during which it was thought that reason reigned supreme, but which in reality led to the endarkenment of reason, for having lost the divine light of revelation it could only founder in its own folly. The Council of Trent, in its decree on Original Sin, states that the first sin caused man to be “spoliatus in gratuitis et vulneratus in naturalibus – despoiled of the free preternatural gifts offered to our first parents, and wounded even in the natural capacities of humanity”. This text, implicitly referring to today’s Gospel, informs us that when man is deprived of supernatural grace, even his natural powers are inhibited in their exercise. The man who thinks that reason suffices, of necessity falls into sin, for only grace can save him from sin, his very nature being wounded and unable to act with righteousness without it.
This reason gone mad continues today its destructive march through all the levels of human life. After having legitimised divorce more than a century ago, having condoned and promoted onanism, that is, the selfish use of marriage without the burden of children, having even made it possible to do away with the unwanted child through abortion and infanticide, we are now faced with the voluntary killing, not only of the elderly but even of anyone whose “quality of life” may not correspond with our expectations. What we are being offered is nothing short of suicide and murder on demand. A number of excellent considerations are being offered at the moment by some well-thinking pastors and politicians on the proposed Tasmanian bill, and we should hope that their wisdom will be listened to.
We must not forget, however, the lesson of today’s Gospel. Man is “vulneratus in naturalibus–wounded in his natural capacities”; this means that he is not capable, without grace, of resisting the dark pull of fallen nature, especially with the momentum that has now developed for several centuries of estrangement from God’s law. It is not enough to propose humane considerations, to argue with the proponents of the new legislation on their own ground. No, we must take the battle onto our ground, that is to say, God’s ground, and the supreme argument that rings out with the full weight of God’s authority is the word that Moses heard on the mountain and which was engraved in stone on the tables of the Law, that word which rings out in every age, with undiminished power and unrelenting sanction: Thou shalt not kill.
If only the proud minds of our age, who have fooled themselves into thinking that they are compassionate when they are in reality cruel, would accept that the Creator knows what is best for man, and that His commandments are meant to make him happy and not miserable, if only – so much evil and so much anguish could be avoided. But no. Just as their predecessors succeeded in making the mother the murderer of her own child, so now they will make the child the murderer if its own mother. And just as they have not qualms about leaving women with the remorse of having killed her own child, so now they want the son and the daughter to take to the grave the remorse of having killed their own parents! Oh, the shame and horror of it all, when the most sacred bonds of human nature are trampled upon and treated as if they were not. And so the mortal enemy triumphs and man is crushed to the ground, and his soul is lost forever in hell. For that is the true tragedy: the eternal loss of souls who turn away from God. A sad plight indeed, we find ourselves in.
Is all hope lost? I should think not. But only on the condition that we employ the remedy given to us in today’s liturgy, namely prayer. A moving example is given us in the offertory verse which we will chant in a moment, one of the most beautiful pieces of our Gregorian repertoire, the Precatus est Moyses, which portrays the intense prayer of Moses when God had decided to exterminate the people on account of their sins. Moses prays, reminding God of the saints of old, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, of all the love they bore Him. And God was appeased, and He did not destroy His people. Will there be among us a Moses today to stand and pray for the people? Will there be a saint among us to obtain God’s pardon for so many appalling sins?
One thing is sure: if we pray, we will be saved. We began this Mass with the Deus in adiutorium meum intende – O God, come to my assistance; O Lord, make haste to help me, that verse with which we commence each of the hours of the Divine Office, and which the ancient monks had always on their lips. In imitation of them, let us renew the fervour and the frequency of our prayer. Let us never imagine for an instant that we can overcome the enemy on his ground and with his tactics. No, God Himself has given us the only ammunition that is effective in this spiritual warfare: His commandments and prayer which makes it possible to keep them. And the motor of prayer is love. That is why the parable of the Good Samaritan is preceded by the great commandment of love: Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and all thy soul and all thy mind and all thy strength; and thy neighbour as thyself.
In these troubled times, the Lord has sent His Mother on a number of occasions and in various places around the world, to warn, to admonish, to encourage. Her great message: prayer and penance. When enough people pray, things change. At Fatima, in particular, she asked us to pray the Rosary, that simple, loving prayer which includes the prayer the Lord Himself gave us and the angelic salutation to Mary. In the Rosary, we contemplate the life of Christ through the eyes of His Mother, and all the while we have on our lips the divinely inspired words by which we repeat our love for Mary Immaculate and our trust in her maternal protection. Let us renew our devotion to the Hail Mary, taking our time to savour each word of that prayer, and conscious of the privilege we have of entering into loving conversation with her. If we know how to hold her hand throughout each day, if we learn the secret of continual conversation with her, not only will we safeguard our own souls in the midst of the surrounding darkness, but we will also be spreading grace around us. Let us learn once again the secret of sowing grace by reciting Hail Marys along our path of each day.
Let us be assured that wherever Mary is, there the devil is not. Let’s make sure we are always with her, that we always hold her hand, for we know, as she herself has told us, that in the end, her Immaculate Heart will triumph. May that day come swiftly, and may we be among those whom she counts as her children. Amen.