Good Samaritan story reminds us how we can be ‘moved by mercy’
April 18, 2019
During this Jubilee of Mercy, we have been attentive to the mercy of God, which is given so generously every day. Things we may have come to take for granted we can now recognize as manifestations of our Father’s merciful love. We have been asked as well to be more open to the needs of others, especially the weak and vulnerable, so we are ready to extend mercy to them.
As we observe October as Respect Life Month during this jubilee year, we are not surprised to learn that the theme chosen for this observance is "Moved by Mercy." This theme is taken from the familiar passage in St. Luke’s gospel about the Good Samaritan.
A man had been beaten mercilessly by robbers and left to die on the side of the road. We imagine God looking with mercy on the innocent victim of this attack. We can also imagine that God wanted to involve a willing neighbor as an instrument of mercy. The first two who came along each chose to avoid the man in need. The Samaritan allowed his heart to be moved with compassion, and he went out of his way to help the vulnerable stranger.
The challenge of the Gospel is clear in this story, and it is amplified during the Jubilee of Mercy. We are not to turn away from the weak and the vulnerable, even when showing mercy would be inconvenient. We have enjoyed the mercy of God without deserving it. So as children of God we see that even a stranger has some claim on our merciful attention.
Pope Francis repeatedly encourages us to see God as a merciful Father. This is not simply an example of the pope’s personal piety. It is rooted in the Christian understanding of God’s design for the dignity of each human person. This design is seen most clearly in the unique gift of Jesus, the God-man, who makes himself vulnerable to save the weak from eternal death.
Jesus is clear that this gift of salvation cannot be received by those who turn away from their neighbor in need. When we care for the vulnerable, we care for Jesus. The works of mercy give evidence that we desire to be close to Jesus.
Our Catholic respect life efforts are rooted in the divine plan for human dignity and the Gospel imperative to care for the least among us. Our neighbors in the human family deserve our respect at every stage of life. The hungry, the homeless, the refugee, the sick, the prisoner – all of these have a claim on our care and respect. Sometimes as individuals we can meet and show mercy to particular neighbors in practical ways. Sometimes we become part of larger, more organized efforts to provide what is needed. Whether individual or corporate, our efforts need to remain focused on the dignity of those being served.
The sad truth is that in our time, human lives seem most vulnerable at the beginning and end of life. And the laws and institutions that traditionally offered them protection may no longer do so. It is important we not ignore the vulnerable children in the womb whose lives may be threatened by abortion. Taking the life of an unborn person is a serious injustice, and the laws that protect this violence are unjust.
The Gospel does not permit us simply to look the other way, or to claim a personal opposition to abortion while taking no action. Our individual and communal voices and votes make a difference. Those who serve in public office should be held accountable for a lack of willingness to protect the most vulnerable – at election time and all the time between elections.
The demands of mercy require us to offer dignified support to mothers and fathers who may feel frightened or desperate at the time of a pregnancy. Merciful help is available at crisis pregnancy centers in our area. Those needing support may approach these centers in a confidential way, and their privacy is respected. Others may need a friend or family member to accompany them. Followers of Jesus should be well known for supporting and accompanying those who need us.
This should be true regarding women and men who suffer after an abortion. The mercy of God can bring powerful healing to those who may wrongly believe they have committed an unforgivable sin. Project Rachel, as well as our prayerful support and friendship, help to mediate this divine mercy.
Increasing numbers of those nearing the end of life – the elderly or the seriously ill – are becoming vulnerable to the acceptance of assisted suicide. In our neighboring state of Colorado, voters will decide next month on whether to allow physician assisted suicide there. As in the case of abortion, we are asked to believe that because physicians are involved, suicide can be a "healthy" option.
We are shocked when we hear of the suicide of a young person. The thought of his isolation and pain leads us to ask, "How might I have helped?" The thought of the suicide of any person should be abhorrent to us. To encourage a suffering person to take his own life, and to provide the means to do so under protection of the law, is the antithesis of mercy.
Legislation allowing assisted suicide is being proposed regularly across our country, including in Nebraska. We should never tolerate this assault on human life and dignity.
The gospel of life is the gospel of mercy, the gospel of Jesus Christ. We should not hesitate to offer this good news to our community, because it reflects a powerful understanding of the dignity of each human person.
I want to offer a reminder that beginning with St. John Paul II, recent popes have asked us to expand the application of Gospel mercy to those convicted of serious crimes. Catholic teaching has always held that we must never directly take a life if it is not necessary to protect others. The sentence of life in prison without parole is sufficient to protect society from further danger. I encourage you to vote to retain the repeal of the death penalty in Nebraska on Nov. 8.