Beyond Pious Platitudes

Photography © by Andy Coan

To this day, the road from Jericho to Jerusalem is long, winding, and desolate. The two travelers could have been heading back home after weeks on temple duty.  Or they could have been on their way to the Temple for their shift (Luke 1:8).  In either case, the priest and the Levite were in a hurry to get where they were going.  The pious duty of liturgical prayer in one direction.  Family who needed them in the other direction.  It was too bad about the half-dead man in the road.  But someone else would have to attend to it.  They just did not have time.

Then came the Samaritan.  Belonging, as he did, to a heretical sect, his theology was all wrong.  Ethnically he was not even a pure Jew, but a Jew/Gentile mongrel.  Many Jews would have welcomed an “ethnic cleansing” campaign to purge the holy land of such half-breeds.  The Samaritan, of course, knew this.  As he saw his bloodied enemy lying there in the road, he could have smugly said “serves him right” and continued walking.

But he couldn’t.  Compassion for the suffering of a fellow human being won out over partisan theology, ethnicity, and the demands of his schedule.  His duty was clear.  If this had happened to his dad, he would want a passing Jew to stop and help.  So he went way out of his way, blowing his schedule to bits, spending money that he perhaps couldn’t afford to spend, even planning to follow up later, on his way back from his trip.

This is a tale told by Jesus to illustrate a point.  But it reflects a curious phenomenon observable in every age.  Good, religious people, who you’d figure to be most likely to help, are often the very ones who use piety and family obligations to excuse themselves from the responsibility of charity.  “Someone else will have to do it – I don’t have time.”  “We gave at the office.”  “I’d like to help, but my budget is already maxed out.”  On the other hand, it is often those you’d least expect who actually go out of their way to lend a helping hand.

Jesus said: “Not every one who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father” (Matthew 7:21).  And the will of the Father is not just that we abstain from doing bad things (sins of commission) but that we actually fulfill our obligation to do justice and works of mercy.  It is stunning that the only sneak preview of the last judgment given us in the four gospels shows people condemned not for murder and adultery, but for failing to do works of mercy (sins of omission).  (Mat 25:36ff).

Yes, good judgment must be exercised.  We are limited human beings and cannot possibly meet all the needs of every suffering person in our own neighborhood, let alone all over the world.  There have been some who have busied themselves with saving the world to the neglect of their own family.

This is where the virtue of prudence comes in and perhaps, in some cases, a good spiritual director.

But if every new request for help elicits from us the knee-jerk reaction that we are just too busy or have already given enough, it is time for an examination of conscience.

Love is often inconvenient.  It means giving not just out of our abundance, but at times, out of our substance.  True charity can really hurt.

That’s what the cross is about, in fact.  The Divine Samaritan saw the entire human race bloodied on a desolate road to nowhere.  He got involved.  And it cost him more than a two coins and a few hours delay to rescue us and nurse us back to health.  What he asks of us who wish to be known as Christians, “little Christs,” is to love with his love and so be true to His Name.

Editors Note: Reflection on the Mass readings for the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C) – Deuteronomy 30:10-14; Psalms 69:14, 17, 30-31, 33-34, ; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37. This series for reflections on the coming Sunday Readings usually appears each Wednesday.


Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118. This article originally appeared in Our Sunday Visitor and is reproduced here by permission of the author.


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About the Author

Dr. Marcellino D’Ambrosio writes from Texas. For his resources on parenting and family life or information on his pilgrimages to Rome and the Holy Land, visit www.crossroadsinitiative.com or call 1.800.803.0118.

Raised in Italian/Irish neighborhood in Providence, RI, Marcellino D’Ambrosio never thought about being anything else but Catholic. But like other Catholic teens, his faith was the last place he looked for fulfillment. Following in the footsteps of his parents, both professional performers in their single years, Marcellino set his sights on stardom, playing bass guitar in several popular rock bands by the time he was 16. At that time he encountered a group of Catholics whose Christian life was an exciting adventure, an adventure worth living for. So he laid his bass guitar aside and embarked on a road that led to a Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America. His doctoral dissertation, written under the direction of the renowned Jesuit theologian, Avery Cardinal Dulles, focused on one of the theological lights of the Second Vatican Council, Henri Cardinal de Lubac, and his recovery of biblical interpretation of the early Church fathers.

His writing has been published in the international journal Communio, Abingdon’s Dictionary of Biblical Interpretation, the Tablet, Catholic Digest, Our Sunday Visitor, and Catholic News Service’s syndicated column "Faith Alive." His popular book, Exploring the Catholic Church and video course by the same name (known as Touching Jesus through the Church in the USA) have been used in hundreds of parishes all throughout the English speaking world. The Guide to the Passion: 100 Questions about the Passion of the Christ, of which he is co-author and co-editor, may prove to be the fastest-selling Catholic book of all time with over a million copies sold in less than three months.

Dr. D’Ambrosio, the father of five and a business owner, brings to his teaching a practical, down-to-earth perspective that makes his words easy to understand and put into practice. Audio and video recordings of his popular teaching are internationally distributed. He often appears on the international Eternal Word Television Network is regularly heard on the nationally syndicated radio show "Catholic Answers Live." Dr. D'Ambrosio has been a guest on Geraldo Rivera, At Large on FoxNews Channel, the Bill O'Reilly radio show and Radio America's news program Dateline: Washington.

In 2001 Dr. D’Ambrosio left his position at the University of Dallas to develop the work of Crossroads Productions, the apostolate of Catholic renewal and evangelization that he co-founded twenty years ago, and to more directly oversee the growth of Wellness Opportunities Group a company dedicated to helping people improve the quality of their lives physically, mentally, and financially. He, his wife Susan, and their five children, reside just outside of San Antonio, TX.

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