Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost—23 August AD 2009

“Love God with thine whole heart and soul and whole strength,
and whole mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”[1]

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

    It is difficult to impossible to add anything to our Lord’s story of the Good Samaritan.  It is elegant in its obviousness and simplicity.


    But if you are not familiar with Jewish history, you may have missed the significance of the fact that the hero of the story is a Samaritan.  Samaria is that region of the Holy Land on the west bank of the Jordan River.  To its north is the area known as Galilee (where our Lord lived as a boy and began His public ministry).  On the south it is bounded by the region known as Judea (which includes Bethlehem where our Lord was born, and Jerusalem with its Temple, and the site of our Lord’s crucifixion. 

    The Samaritans, then, were sort of Jews, but not quite Jews.  Historically we know that Israel was taken into captivity by the Assyrians around the beginning of the eighth century before Christ.  In 721 B.C. the Assyrians established a colony of foreign pagan peoples in Samaria to occupy the land.  The fourth Book of Kings describes the settlement and relates that they were troubled by a plague of lions, sent by God to compel them to give up their pagan practices and adopt the religion of Israel.[3]  Although they did adopt Jewish practices, they never completely gave up their pagan heritage, and had the annoying habit of worshipping in their own temple instead of in the Jewish Temple at Jerusalem.  Even by the time of Christ, centuries later, the Samaritans were treated by the Jews with all of the prejudice that ethnic minorities often receive in any society:  “They are sort of like us, but not exactly like us, so therefore, we will have nothing to do with them.”

    So, what our Lord is doing here is telling His followers that the Kingdom of Heaven does not belong to people of high rank—not even to those of high rank in the Temple; the priests and the levites.  The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who, in actuality, keep this all important Commandment to “Love God with thine whole heart and soul and whole strength, and whole mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.”[4]  To put this in modern terms, it doesn’t matter that you are a priest, a bishop, soldier, tinker, tailor, president, or governor—Your salvation will depend upon your love of God, and on the practical outcome of that love of God, the way you treat your neighbor.

    Saint Paul, quite correctly, points to the fact that eternal salvation is based on the virtue of faith;  the unquestioning belief in what God has revealed, simply because God has revealed it, and He is incapable of deception.[5]  Only those of the Faith are justified—gathered in as His people, His adopted sons and daughters, who glorify God by the virtues they exercise in this life.  But Saint James (whom we believe to have been a close relative of our Lord; a cousin, perhaps) tells us that faith alone is not enough.  “Faith alone, unless it has works, is dead in itself.”[6]

    James is not talking about the “dead works of the law,” the ritual observances of the Mosaic Law which no longer have any value—but about feeding and clothing our brother or sister who is in want—“giving aid to orphans and widows in their tribulation, and keeping one’s self unspotted from the world.”[7]  It is not enough just to believe, for “the devils also believe, and yet they tremble”![8]

    In our time, you can find Catholic teachers who claim that everybody is saved:  “perhaps Purgatory is enough.”[9]  But such thinking flies in the face of what our Lord taught about the Kingdom of Heaven.  On Judgment Day our Lord will place on one side those who fed the hungry and the thirsty, who sheltered the stranger and clothed the naked, and visited the sick and the imprisoned.  These will be welcomed into everlasting happiness, as He said, “for in doing these thing for the least of My brethren you did them for Me.”  Those who performed not these acts of kindness would “depart into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” [10]

    Elsewhere He tells us that “the kingdom of heaven is like to a net cast into the sea, gathering together all kinds of fish, which when it was filled they drew out, and sitting by the shore, they put the good into vessels and cast away the bad.  So shall it be at the end of the world:  the angels shall go out and shall separate the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[11]

    Yet, not all is hellfire and brimstone—God wants to be loved in return for His love, not for fear of His punishment.  “Blessed are the eyes that see the things which you see,” He tells us in the Gospel, “For I say to you, that many prophets and kings have desired to see the things that you see, and to hear the things that you hear, and have not done so.[12]  We should never forget that we are singularly privileged to see and hear the things of Christ.  Many great and holy men have gone before us without these things—and many people live in the world around us without the knowledge of Jesus Christ.

    We are fortunate in having both the Sacraments and the Scriptures to bring us to know God and to love Him above all else, and formed by His love, to love our neighbor as ourselves.  Last week we talked about the Sacraments and how they help us to grow in the spiritual life.  And the Sacred Scriptures are obviously an abundant source of the knowledge of God, and life with Him.

    I would urge you to read the Scriptures, and to follow through on their advice about prayer and penance and the love of God.  And, I cannot urge you enough to become frequent partakers of the Sacraments.  It is in this way that we will become the kinds of people who will win eternal life—people who love God above all else, and their neighbor as themselves.


[1]  Gospel: Luke x: 23-37


[4]  Gospel: Luke x: 23-37

[9]  Pope John Paul II, Crossing the Threshold of Hope pp. 186-7 in the English edition.


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